Sunday, March 4, 2018

Celebrating the Seasons with Ezra Jack Keats (OR Punxatawney Paula calls SPRING)

I think Winter is getting to me.  I declare it over.  I feel it's time to move on.
Few authors and illustrators bring the seasons to life for me as much as Ezra Jack Keats.  Had I started this blog earlier in the season I would have shared The Snowy Day, which the US Post Office immortalized in their Forever Stamp series this past Fall.
But I'm declaring it to be
SPRING.  I chose to share other Keats books with my Volunteer Artist.

There are a handful of authors and illustrators who, as a child made me fall in love with children's books and book illustration.

Keats was one of them. His stories were warm and easy. He found humor and charm in the every day: snowballs hidden in pockets, the welcoming of a  new baby, the planning of pet shows.
When I was little it never struck me that he was one of the few children's books artists who featured stories about children of color. I can only imagine how much it meant for my friends to see children like themselves on the pages.

But let's me get to the book I chose to share.  I picked Jennie's Hat because I had been a girl with odd taste in clothing. It was a childhood favorite. I cherished this book about a girl whose hat is assembled by birds and created with bits of nature and scraps of cards.

Jennie looks forward to the new hat her Aunt will be sending but when it arrives she is disappointed to find a plain white hat.  Jennie tries all sorts of substitutes, from flower pots to straw baskets but nothing will do. She puts the hat aside and heads out to feed the birds. When she begrudgingly wears the plain hat her bird friends come to surprise her.


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My Volunteer Artist is a fabulous reader and chose to read the book to herself. We looked at the beautiful artwork in the Keats' books that I brought with me. We also looked at work by illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton whose work, though unique, shows her appreciation of Keats.  The Artist pointed to spots where Keats integrated scrap paper, lace, and newspaper clippings into the artwork.

I decided to have the Volunteer Artist create a simple hat collage.  I brought waaaaay too many supplies. I wanted to see where she looked to find patterns.

  • Card stock in a variety of skin tones
  • Large white paper for the hat
  • Tape, Scissors, Glue Gun and Glue Sticks
  • Magazines, Newspapers, and Vintage maps: anything with patterns
  • Markers, Crayons and/or Colored Pencils
  1.  AHEAD OF TIME: (Optional: helpful if working with large group of kids) Rip pages out of magazines of anything that can look like a pattern: Fruit, dogs from a distance, thread, etc.  Cut out shape of face from card stock when working with really young kids. 
  2. CRAFT DAY: Show the artist how to cut an oval for a face
  3. Artist cuts out hat.  Can be made of white paper, newspaper, anything large. Can be beautiful or hilarious!
  4. Cut out patterns found in magazines, cards, papers and adhere to hat.
Make an Actual Hat with Newspaper.  Or make the base out of a paper plate with a whole cut in the center.
SERIOUSLY, looking back I wish I'd done one of these variations with the Artist instead but I was still suffering from Winter Blues.

 We spent a little time afterward talking about being influenced by Keats.  I pointed out how I had used newspaper clippings to do the title art for this blog.  I pointed out the brilliant work of Vanessa Bradley Newton, who also uses patterned paper in her work

THE YOUNGEST MARCHER by Cynthia Levinson
Art by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

And we welcomed in SPRING with Ezra Jack Keats. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Crazy Little Thing Called "Love, Mama"

 It took me a long time to warm up to Valentine's Day. When I was single it made me feel lonely and once I met my husband I felt obligated to go out NO MATTER WHAT.  We crammed into crowded restaurants.  We "celebrated" while battling wisdom tooth pain. We trudged to through snow to get to a local "romantic hot-spot." Nothing says "romance" like painful chattering teeth, soaking wet feet and a head cold.

Then I had my kids.  They would come home with hand-crafted wonky valentines.  Xeroxed poems pasted to their photos. Drawings of our family surrounded by shaky hearts. My own heart overflowed with love.  I saved everything they ever gave me.


That feeling of overflowing love is perfectly conveyed in Love, Mama (Roaring Book Press, 2018) written and beautifully illustrated by Jeanette Bradley. When Mama penguin goes away on a trip, young Kipling misses her tremendously.  He tries substitutes but none will do.  "...pillow Mama wouldn't read.  Picture Mama wouldn't laugh..." As the days go on he waits and wishes for her.  A package in the mail from Mama reminds him of her love and reassures him that she will return.  The reunion is quiet and meaningful.

This endearing book perfectly portrays the bond between parent and child.  The story doesn't overwhelm. It's tender and and yet powerful.   The illustrations are lovely and the details bring the characters and the story to life: passing whales with their young, attentive seals who help carry packages, and tender hugs between bespectacled Mama and her little Kipling make it a book that will resonate with young children and parents.

I will confess I truly thought I came up with the idea of making coffee creamer containers into penguins UNTIL I posted on Facebook that I needed container donations.  A teacher friend responded to say she had just made her containers into a "feed the penguin" game.  Sigh.  I decided it would be cute and that we'd go ahead with the project anyway.
IN A MOMENT OF "GENIUS"  I also bought magnet tape*** thinking we could magnetize a Mama and Baby penguin and then have them stick together.  Nope. Didn't work.  Feel free to try.  Again: sigh.

*** Supplies Note: Magnet tape is a questionable
addition to the list!  (see above description!)
  • Creamer containers of varying sizes
  • Black paint to pre-paint the containers (Acrylic or spray paint)
  • Tape, Scissors, Glue Gun and Glue Sticks
  • White stick-back felt
  • Black,  white and yellow card stock
  • Black and red markers, White Paint Marker
  • Red foam sheet OR red piece of card stock (optional) 
  1.  DAY BEFORE: Pre-paint the containers black. (I used acrylic.  If you are doing a large number you can spray paint them.)
  2. CRAFT DAY:  Artist cuts shapes out of white felt and adhere them to the creamer bottles.  Large oval for penguins' stomach, smaller circle for the face. Adhere them to containers.
  3. Artist draws in faces with markers.
  4. Artists cuts feet out of yellow card stock, wings out of black card stock.  
  5. Artists cuts out red foam or cardboard heart to give tuck under penguin's wing.
  6. Artist quite proud of his penguins!
  7. ADULT uses hot glue to adhere cut shapes to penguins. 
  8. Drawing on faces
ACCESSORIZE! Add scarf, cardboard boot,  TRY adding magnet tape so penguins can cling to each-other.  (Hey, I failed at that but YOU may have the magic touch!)


My young artist (7) declared the book "very sweet".  Appropriately, his mom read it to him. I felt privileged to be there for that. (If I tried reading to my 14 year old I'd never hear the end of it!)

Create Macaroni penguins by adding yellow pipe-cleaner or yellow feather clippings to the head.  And YES, they really are called Macaroni penguins.  Although you COULD try to make them out of macaroni.  Let me know how that goes for you.
I'm a Macaroni penguin!
Make your penguin into a message board.  Glue a cardboard or foam heart to his/her tummy.   Cut a heart shape out of Dry Erase Sticker Paper and attach it to the heart.
Leave messages of love for your family!

Kipling lines up "wishing rocks" to wish for Mama's return.  Have your artists create their own collection of wishing rocks.  You can get a selection for them but if you are at home or creating crafts in a park or library, have the artists find their own. They can pick rocks, wash them well, and paint them.  I recommend acrylic but if you are worried about mess or staining they can use tempera paint or water based paint markers.  They can make each rock represent a friend, family member, or a special wish.

As far as wishes go, I wish you all an abundance of love and a Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Take a Vacation with 7 Ate 9

There are so many books that I love and want to share.
It's been hard picking just one for each post and hardest to pick the very first.
I've carefully selected a book by a wonderful writer, generous speaker, and brilliant blogger.  

Tara Lazar's clever and hilarious 7 Ate 9, illustrated by Ross MacDonald, is a mystery that begins when Number 6 approaches a "Private I" to help him find out why Number 7 is always following him.  And why wouldn't he be scared, when rumor has it that 7 Ate 9? 

The book is packed with numerical and visual puns, word play, and mathematical jokes. Lines like "I knew about this 7 fella. He was odd" and "I fear my days are numbered" add to the fun but don't detract from the mystery for either readers who might not get all the jokes yet or those who are lucky enough to catch them all! 
And after a second reading I was still finding new ones:

Note the P- shaped pie at Cafe Uno
The Private I's door reads "Al F. Bet".  (Alef and Bet are the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.)

The illustrations have a clever retro feel and Ross MacDonald's characters remind me of charming vintage advertisements. He sneaks in as many jokes as he can right down to the Pi shaped pie at the diner.  

This is a wonderful book for inspiring art projects.  
My eye immediately went to the part in the story in which 7 shows off his book of vacation photos of his trip sailing the 7 Seas.  (I'm trying really hard not to give away any spoilers here so you better go read this book now in case I seriously trip up!)
I thought it would be fun to have the young artists create their own book.  They had the option of using their age repeatedly, their favorite numbers, or the letters in their name.
I downloaded vintage postcards and printed them out

  • Paper (large paper cut into long postcard-height strips)
  • Tape, Scissors, and Glue Sticks
  • Drawing supplies of choice
  • Print-out of Vintage Postcard (optional)
  • Pre-Cut letters (optional)
The craft coordinator has the option of finding out the artists' names and ages in advance and pre-cutting the block letters out of card stock.   It helps when working with time constraints. Personally I find hand drawn letters to be charming so with my small group of Artists I did precut the letters and numbers but I explained that they had the option to draw the letters and left it to their preference.

The artists, age 5-9 all really enjoyed the book (thank you to friend Susan for doing such a fabulous reading!) and there were a lot of laughs.

I explained that they were making postcard books, just as "7" did in the story.

They all chose to use the pre-cut numbers and letters and they all understood that the letters and numbers represented characters.

There were a variety of vacations drawn, some on the slopes,

                        and some tropical.

Some with monkeys,

                     some with wheels.

All of them wonderful.   Thank you to the creative and talented volunteer artists who brought this
7 Ate 9 project to life!

Soon to come: I have several upcoming posts.  One book is all about expressing love and one is to honor Black History month.

If you have a book you would like me to review and have a talented young Artist be inspired by, please contact me in the "CONTACT PAULA" section or by leaving a comment.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


A huge THANK YOU goes out to the many friends who suggested names for this blog. In the end I decided to go with The Cardboard Chronicles because it brings together two things I love so much: Children's Books and Cardboard.

This is my second blog.  My first was my Picassos's Basement blog which I created to share news about the art programs that I ran and the art camps that I continue to run.

But my real love has always been children's books and I plan to use THIS space to share favorite picture books and the occasional middle grade or YA book. Both new titles and classics, all books that I love.  And for most books that I share I'll offer art projects that can accompany the books.

I hope it will be useful for teachers, librarians, parents, art instructors, amused passersby, and fellow Picture Book writers and illustrators who write much more useful blogs.

In keeping a blog I hope to learn a little myself because in addition to being a published illustrator I'm also now a writer and am working on my OWN picture books.

Luckily I have one Superhero Power: My ability to turn anything into an ART PROJECT.  

I'm not going to lie to you.  It's not the MOST useful of powers.  My creations are not always brilliant and are at times disastrous.  It rarely makes me money.  But the power comes in handy now and again. 

I discovered I had this power when I was pretty young while creating my own cardboard Halloween costumes. 
And my friends' costumes.  
And elaborate carnivals for my gerbils (who promptly ate the carnivals).
Halloween Costume?
Method of humiliating 5th grade son?

Later I built cardboard toys for my kids.
I ran classes and themed art camps where campers created entire cities out of recyclable items.   

Sometimes it does makes me feel a little heroic. Just a little.
And although this power does not come with a costume I can always make my own.

Ask my poor son who shuddered when I walked into his school dressed like this ⇨⇨⇨⇨⇨⇨

Look to this space in a day or so for the first installment.