Friday, February 5, 2010

Drawn to Read: Engineering Illustrations with Robert Sabuda

Do cover illustrations call to you, "Pick me up. Read me. Don't I look awsome?!?" Of course they do. You are drawn to read. Illustrations are an amazing and vital part of reading, especially when it comes to picture books and graphic novels. Illustrations help tell the story and express thoughts that words may not acurately say. Illustrations help us see things from a differnt angle or in a differnt light. Sometimes in ways we never would have expected. It's always good to stretch our imaginations and feed it new material to consider. That is why I focus on illustrators at least once a week. This week's edition of "Drawn to Read" features Robert Sabuda.

I welcome your suggestions for future illustrators. I also welcome your comments on the illustrators about whom I choose to post. Actually, I expect your comments. Don't just be a lurker, take part in this conversation. Be a part of this community. You have good thoughts and opinions and I really do want to hear them.

Robert Sabuda: 3-D, Without the Glasses

Robert Sabuda has been described as an artist, an engineer, even a magician. His work in children's publishing has changed the industry — created a revolution in what can be expected from illustrations. Although he began his career as a traditional illustrator, and has published 14 books as such, it is his work with paper engineering, better known as pop-ups, that has taken the industry to new illustrative heights.

According to his website and several interivews, Sabuda began his art career, as soon as he could hold a crayon. He spent his childhood painting, drawing, gluing, cutting and like most kids, generally making a mess of his room. Sabuda claims his love of reading came from his mother who read to him and his siblings before bed everynight. Sabuda's ability and love of working with his hands came from his father, a mason, who Sabuda describes admirably as taking pride in his work. It seems everything in Sabuda's life guided him towards his eventual career as an illustrator. His teachers encouraged him to create the bulletin board displays, an awful dentist visit eventually introduced him to pop-up books (, and working in the mail room of Dial books exposed him to original art from talented illustrators, such as Barbara Cooney and James Marshall. Luckily, Sabuda not only stuck with it, he thrived.

After publihsing "A Christmas Alphabet" in 1994 Sabuda went on to publish 11 more pop-up books over the next five years, including "The 12 Days of Christmas," "Cookie Count: A Tasty Pop-up," "ABC Disney Pop-up," and "The Moveable Mother Goose." But it was his next book that set the industry on it's head.

Commemorating it's 100th anniversary Sabuda publihsed L. Frank Baum's classic, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," with illustrations based on W. W. Denslow's original artwork. Although much of the text was abridged, Sabuda managed to keep the core of the tale in tact. He created seven complex double-page spreads, highlighted by a one-foot-tall spinning cyclone, an ornate Emerald City complete with green-tinted glasses for viewing, and the wizard's balloon gently flying over the fields of Oz. Included on each spread are sub-pages or booklets complete with text and small vignette pop-ups of their own. Sabuda brilliantly captures the wonder, excitement, and fantasy of Oz. No children's bookshelf is complete without a copy ready to pop-up.

Many parents and industry experts have voiced concerns over the years that Sabuda's pop-ups were to delicate for children to read. Sabuda has responded by saying that some pop-ups are delicate and generally, the more delicate a pop-up is the more fantastic it is. On his website Sabuda suggests that parents concerned by the fragile nature of a pop-up should use the opportunity to sit down and share the experience with their child. Show them how to turn the pages carefully and treat the book with respect — not as a toy.

Sabuda didn't rest on his laurels after the critial and commercial success of his "Oz" pop-up. He kept pushing himself to create more amazing illustrative creations. He teamed with another fantastic illustrator, Matthew Reinhart, to create a couple naturalist pop-up handbooks. In 2002 he tackled the Christmas classic, "The Night Before Christmas," complete with a flying sleigh and eight reindeer. Then in 2003 he returned to classic children's literature with "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." With artwork based on John Tenniel's timeless illustrations Sabuda followed a similar format to that of his "Oz" expedition creating six large and intricate pop-ups accompanied by smaller booklets and pop-ups. The six double page spreads include Alice's arms and legs dangling out of W. Rabbit's house, the Mad Tea Party, and a wonderfully depicted pile of cards coming down on Alice's head. Just as Alice is surpised by all the wonderous sites on her adventure so too will you be as you read along in Sabuda's vision of Wonderland.

Over the next couple years Sabuda returned to the subjects of Christmas ("Christmas Alphabet" Anniversary Edition) and winter ("Winter's Tale" and "Winter in White"). He also teamed up with Reinhart on three editions of "Encyclopedia Prehistorica" The first was Dinosaurs. It ws followed  by Sharks and Seamonsters and Mega Beasts. If your children are into dinosaurs you don't want to miss out on the large pop-ups of the T-Rex, Megalodon or Saber Tooth Tiger.

In 2007 Sabuda tackled the "Chronicles of Narnia." Creating a single large pop-up for each of the seven books, Sabuda breathes new life into the classic series with his intricate paper creations. Aslan's is definitely the highlight. Four of the spreads also include smaller booklets with added pop-ups. Although the artwork is engineered to perfection and creates a fitting feeling of awe when reading the Narnia tales, too much has to be removed from the text to make this book work as more than a conversation starter. It would be a very nice accompaniment when reading the unabridged "Chronicles of Narnia" with your children.

Sabuda  reteamed with Reinhart for a new Encyclopedia set, "Encyclopedia Mythologica," which includes editions for Fairies and Magical Creatures and the soon to be released, God's and Heroes. So when your children are screaming for more after Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief hits theaters this summer you can surprise them with a book of pop-ups.

Sabuda went back to the children's classics in 2008 with J. M. Barrie's, "Peter Pan." He really outdid himself in creating spread dominating pop-ups - billowing clouds high above the London skyline,  mermaids preening in the lagoon, Captain hook sliding down a hollow tree, and an imposing pirate ship (complete with a Jolly Roger.) No longer do you need to fly towards the second star to the right and straight on until morning. Sabuda's 3-D enchantments transport us with a simple turn of the page to Neverland — the realm of Lost Boys, fairies, and pirates.

If you are looking for a gift, a different look at a story or just a wonderful book for your children, you can be assured that if Robert Sabuda created the paper engineering (pop-ups) the illustrations will be inspiring. Thank you Robert Sabuda.

Also of interest:

Maurice Sendak and Arthur Yorink's, "Mommy," a pop-up by Matthew Reinhart.
"The Jungle Book: a Pop-up Adventure," by Matthew Reinhart
Tomie DePaola's, "Brava, Strega Nona! A Heartwarming Pop-up Book" by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart
"Star Wars: A Pop-up Guide to the Galaxy," by Matthew Reinhart

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Quick Blog Tutorial

There have been some questions and concerns raised via email about interacting with this blog, where things are located, and how to do any of "that stuff." So I am going to address the questions and concerns here in a quick and easy tutorial.  

Follow — I am taking the steps to make this blog readily available and easy to use by offering several different ways to keep in touch and be a part of this community. I will be adding more as I find new, better and easier ways to make everything work. "Followers" will automatically receive notifications rwhen the blog is updated and can easily leave comments on the posts. Some people have had difficulty becoming followers because of their service provider. Sorry. The follower button is currently operated by Google friends and can be found on the left hand side of the page. If you have a Google account of any sort this should be easy to work.

Subscribe — Subscribers can have the blog entries streamed to their Google or any other home page that allows RSS, atom and several other feeds. instead of waking up and checking your Wall Street Journal headlines you can check your Chapter One updates. You don't have to do one or the other, you can actually do both. This is a quick and easy way to keep in touch. The subscribe button can be found on the left hand side of the page and looks like this.

Chapter One Book Reviews

Atom — Atom is a feed like the subscribe button. It can only be used for pages that allow an atom feed. It can be found at the bottom of the front page and is a "type" link.

E-mail — You can also e-mail me at requesting automatic e-mail updates. I will add you to the list and you will receive updates whenever the site is updated.

Comments — I want everyone to take part in the discussions and reviews. Make comments on the books that we cover, or on the review itself. Suggest titles for upcoming reviews or ideas for interviews and articles. 

At the bottom of each entry (see above image) is a small comment button. You should be able to click on that and leave a comment or read comments that have already been made. Anonymous comments are accepted. However, I reserve the right to remove any comment I do not feel is appropriate for the site or it's readers. 

Reactions — Also at the bottom of each entry is a simple way to comment. You may not have time to write a full manifesto or have anything that interesting to say. I still want to know what you think so register your reactions with a simple click. There are several reaction blocks and all it takes is a click to register your thoughts.

E-mail Post — In the same area below each post you'll find a small letter button (Didn't show up on the image above). The button sits directly to the right of the comments. This e-mail button makes it easy for you to share the entry, review, discussion, etc. with any of your friends or colleagues. Spread the word about a book, author or this blog. It's easy.

If this was helpful, let me know.
If you have any more questions, let me know.
If you have any suggestions, let me know.
I need your help to make this site everything it can be, and everything we want it to be.

Thank you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Action, Adventure, and a Fairytale Twist

I have decided to stay on the subject of graphic novels for a little longer. Lately, it seems everything I see is about graphic novels. Books such as, “Geronimo Stilton” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” are a cross between a chapter book and a graphic novel. Then you have “Captain Underpants” and “Babymouse” which are graphic novels pretending to be chapter books.

All the major publishing houses are looking for some way to tap into the graphic novel market. You’ll find successful middle readers being converted: “Warriors,” Artemis Fowl," and “Skeleton Key” come to mind. Movie and TV franchises like “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” and “Twilight Zone” are not immune either. Popular titles including, “The Boxcar Children,” “The Hardy Boys,” and “Nancy Drew” are also getting inked. I’m only surprised there are no plans for “Harry Potter” as a graphic novel… or are there.

Just like traditional books, though, there are good, bad and ugly stories in this genre too. The newly published “Calamity Jack” is a prime example of the “good.”

“Calamity Jack”
By Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale
For ages 8 - 14
Shannon and Dean Hale return to the graphic novel genre with another rollicking adventure in
“Calamity Jack.” When we last left Rapunzel and Jack (“Rapunzel’s Revenge,” they were embraced in a fairy tale kiss and poised to live happily ever after. Or so we thought.

“Calamity Jack” begins with a flashback to Jack’s birth in the city of Shyport and quickly progresses through his formidable years. We learn that his mother owns and runs a bakery in a tenement house and that Jack was generally up to no good. Along with his partner in crime, a feisty pixie named Pru, Jack decided to run a scheme on Blunderboar, a corrupt giant. When some magic beans get out of hand and the scheme goes awry Jack has to leave town quickly. With a certain golden-egg-laying-goose under his arm Jack goes west.

After “Rapunzel’s Revenge” and the fairy tale kiss, Jack and Rapunzel head back east to the big city of Shyport. Unfortunately everything has changed. Buildings are crumbling, giants appear to run the city, Jack’s mom is being held prisoner by Blunderboar, and average citizens keep turning up missing. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the giant ant people that are terrorizing the city. Jack and Rapunzel team up with Pru and young newspaper man, Freddie Sparksmith, to rescue Jack’s mom, bring down Blunderboar and save the city.

Like “Rapunzel’s Revenge” the action is set in a strange fantasy version of the American west. Only this time the adventure is moved off of the frontier and into a bustling city. The characters are well developed through dialogue and the illustrations. Nathan Hale brings the characters to life with rich colors, layers and humorous facial expressions. The dialogue is witty and quick as are the dangerous and exciting situations. “Calamity Jack” is a worthy follow-up to “Rapunzel’s Revenge.” Read as a pair or on its own you and your kids will enjoy the tale.

Also of interest:

“Into the Volcano”
By Don Wood
For Ages 8 – 14
This suspenseful adventure follows two young boys as they are whisked off to the island of Kocalaha,
to stay with family they never even knew they had. The adventure is fast and furious with lava flows, surfing, underground exploration, kidnapping and treasure. Presented in the form of a graphic novel “Into the Volcano” depicts each twist and turn of the plot with vivid clarity. Unfortunately many of the twists and turns have no real explanation and some of the illustrations depict gruesomely frightening scenes -- younger readers be warned. The strange plot twists and frightening elements won’t matter too much to readers though; they’ll be too caught up in the excitement.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Graphic Novels, Creativity, and the Joy of Reading.

Does it matter what your children read?

Recently both of my sons have become obsessed with graphic novels. Everything from "Batman" to "Bone" to "Calvin and Hobbes." I don't have anything against graphic novels or traditional comic books. I have enjoyed reading a few myself (there is a collection of comic books in my garage.) Up until recently though my nine-year-old son was reading "Wayside School", "Tom Swift," "Harry Potter," "The Chronicles of Narnia," and just about everythign from Andrew Clements. My five-year-old who is still learing to read loved storytime with "Ready, Freddy!," "The Curious Garden," and "Stuart Little." Neither child is a reluctant reader so I never even considered comic books and graphic novels as options for story time.

Then my children went to school and began coming home with graphic novels from the library. They were reciting stories, playing games, and pretending all in the realm of the graphic novels they were reading. Instead of being disappointed they were not reading large impressive chapter books I needed to look at the situation from a differnt angle. My kids were jazzed about literature. They were excited to use their imagination in a differnt way. They wanted to create their own books. That's pretty cool.

The early books were often just scribbles on paper with no words. The hieroglyphics only meant something to the nine and five-year-old minds of the boys who created them. But I was proud of the creativity and effort. Before long they were binding upwards of 10 illustrated pages together with tape. The stories were rudimentary, but followed a basic plot. Best of all the stories generally had nothing to do with the graphic novels they had been reading.

So here's the lesson to be taken from this. It doesn't matter what style of book your children are reading, as long as they are reading and ecited about it. I read recently (I need to find where I read it) that people who read were more engaging, made more money, and had better qualities of life than people who didin't read. Now who doesn't want that for their children.

While we're on the topic of graphic novels, I came across this fun piece from about the process brother and sister team Matthew and Jennifer Holm take in creating a "Babymouse" graphic novel for kids. Check it out, it really is quite entertaining:

You may also want to try a couple activities with your kids.

Begin by drawing 10 - 12 squares. Make sure your squares are large enough to include a picture. You may just want to use single pages. Leave space below the squares for a couple sentences. Talk to your kids about a character. Maybe it is your child's favorite stuffed animal or lego guy. Then ask them what the story is about. What happens to the character? To get things going you write the first sentence. Let your children write the rest and have them draw pictures in each square to accompany the story.

Try a different angle on this same basic activity. Once you have the 12 squares prepared. Draw pictures in each square, alternating with your children. Think of it as telling a viusal story, line by line. Don't talk to each other about the story, just see where you and your kids take it. Once all the pictures are completed have your kids go back and write in captions, like a comic book to tell the story.

You'll have a great time, a great memory and you may be surprised to see what stories you create together.