Monday, December 19, 2011

peanuts christmas special

Charles Schulz' Peanuts Christmas Special had to fight to get the Peanuts Christmas Special to be what it is. Everyone told him he was crazy.

Here's what he had to convince network executives at CBS to do:
-- to not use a laugh track 
-- to use actual children for the voices of the characters 
-- and (most crucial of all) to keep the true meaning of Christmas in there and have Linus quote from Luke 2:8-14

The big important personages of CBS all hated the idea and said it would fail. Particularly that Bible stuff.

Thankfully Schultz didn't believe them. And what would it be without that "Bible stuff"?

Sometimes your job isn't just to create something. It's to fight for it.

More here


Monday, December 12, 2011

more favorite favorite favorites

a favorite poet and a favorite poem recited by someone who has to got be one of my favorite persons reciting a poem:

Monday, December 5, 2011

favorite favourite favorites

Jon Klassen is one of my favorite illustrators right now... and his very funny book I WANT MY HAT BACK is one of my favorite books -- there is talk of a Caldecott for it. (Interesting review in HORN BOOK on that.) It comes from one of my favorite publishers, Candlewick. (Here's the trailer

It takes hard work to look that easy. And a lot of time to be that simple.
And here's something else quite wonderful: his cover for the NYT book review...
via Jago 

Klassen writes of his illustration: "The book being reviewed, 'The Grief of Others' by Leah Hager Cohen, has a scene in it where a little girl holds a mock funeral in a river using ashes and chicken bones. She falls in and almost drowns right after that." via NYT

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bulbuous Bouffant Vestibules

I adore this it is insane and kind of reminds me of what I sometimes do with my sister/certain select friends--we can do it for hours... we love it...

Monday, November 28, 2011

writing what you don't understand

Freeman Dyson (b. 1923, British-born, American all round brilliant scientific person) said of scientific theories: "You sit quietly gestating them, for nine months or whatever the required time may be, and then one day they are out on their own, not belonging to you any more but to the whole community of scientists. Whatever it is that you produce, a baby, a book, or a theory, it is a piece of the magic of creation. You are producing something that you do not fully understand."

Monday, November 21, 2011


James Dickey, (b. 1923) who's most famous novel, Deliverance (1970), was made into a movie, also wrote poetry. He said: "A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning."

Monday, November 14, 2011

dangerous weapons

"I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters." ~Frank Lloyd Wright
I love the quote. Plus the idea that something that puts words on a page is dangerous.

Wait. No. Of course this typewriter is dangerous. Imagine what it could do to you if it landed on your head.

I have one of them sitting in the corner of my room. My mum says she loves it and wants it because she learned to type on it. But it's too heavy to pick up let alone transport across the Atlantic. So here it stays sitting there. (But she gets to visit it.)

The other creepy thing about my ancient dangerous typewriter is: it's a typewriter that was around when Hitler was.

This is getting all too creepy. So I'm stopping now. And going back to my extremely dangerous bright green Clairefontaine notebook...

Monday, November 7, 2011

good manners bulletin


Everyone is agreed. You need good manners to get on in life. Emily Post is very much in agreement (see photo: she is smiling.) (But who is that woman in the hat behind her?) Never mind that. The point is, manners are important.

However, what I want to know is--good manners for you and good manners for me might be different. I mean. What if you were a pig? Would it be polite to be clean and tidy? Of course it wouldn't. It would be Atrocious Disgraceful Conduct.

How about splashing in your bath? Is that naughty? Not if you're an elephant. 

Going to bed? Is that good if you are an Owl? No, I tell you. It's Completely Unacceptable Behavior!

Manners and Etiquette are all about knowing when and where and how and being Appropriate. And here's your guide to navigating manners... while at the same time making you laugh. Which I think always helps, right? Children are defintely in agreement.

You can find the book here
OR listen to the silly trailer even:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Interview with children's writer/illustrator Shaun Tan

Author illustrator Shaun Tan recently won what amounts to the nobel prize for children's literature: the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. His book THE LOST THING was turned into a great animation (see below). He also worked as concept artist on animated films including "Wall-E". He was interviewed by SPIEGEL and answered the questions by... drawing pictures.

For instance when asked to introduce himself he drew this:
And when the interview said "At age 37, you have received the highest honor in your field. What's next?"... he answered:
Love him. Very cool. Read it here.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Slime Molds or beauty and the blob


they look like aliens
they are ancient
they live on land
they might be living in your next door forest, in fact
under your very nose, or shoe

they are...
(scary music here)

The slime molds.

Their real name is "Physarum polycephalum" which, as you know only too well, means "many-headed slime mold"

which, aside from anything else, provides us with a fabulous name to call someone you don't like.

via NYT

Monday, October 17, 2011

writer's block--shakespeare style

Anna Cohen's animated short film tells the story of William Shakespeare with writers' block, and how his two "friends" (Romeo and Juliet) assist him in overcoming it. The animation was made using two animation techniques: stop-motion and Flash animation.

Reminds me of a writer (whose name I forget) who just before bed would ask his characters to help him with something puzzling him about their story and tell them he expected them to work on the solution so he'd have it when he woke up. 

I know it sounds weird and everything. But it works. I once asked a character what her name was and immediately she told me "Semolina!" as if it was quite obvious. Which I suppose it was--to her. (She is the clever cat in Handbag Friends.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

antique scary cures/health treatments

oh dear. if you were ever tempted to want to live in the past... you just have to look at these scary cures 

have a headache? look what you'd have to take instead of Advil--and imagine if you happened to get a headache WHILE WALKING DOWN THE STREET?
Sparklet Nasal-- completely cures head colds, c. 1900-05

and I don't know what she's selling below but I don't want it (it's clearlypretending to be toothpaste but then why the scary hat? and face? and what about the name BOTOT?... what were they thinking?)
Botot Dentifrices: Liquid, Powder, Paste, Soap, c. 1925
The Next To Go Fight Tuberculosis, 1919

via NYT


Monday, October 3, 2011

fabulous english country house libraries

which one would you like?

(no. you can't have them all.) 

I know one thing: my english desk (i think it's a partner's pedestal) would fit right in and feel right at home in any one of these room--even standing in the middle of one. Especially standing in the middle of one. 

More fab libraries here.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Amazing science art: Meteorite Warhol?

The American Museum of Natural History is putting on an exhibition called Picturing Science. It's over 20 large format images taken with advanced technology. (Which kind of doesn't tell you much when you think about it--I mean I think I wrote this very sentence using advanced technology, didn't I?--i.e. a mac?) 

The other important thing to note before we get to the point is that the exhibition is the idea of Dr Siddall who is a leech specialist. Ew don't want his job. Unless it's just to be able to answer "What do you do?" with "I"m a Leech Specialist." And watch the conversation die. And everyone go off their food.

But take a look at this. It is the mineral composition of a meteorite. Or is it a Warhol?
Fascinating that down to the most minute tiniest invisible details, everything in this world around us is shining and beautiful. 

John Calvin said: "There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice."

More here

Monday, September 12, 2011

The story of The OREO

It claims to be the most powerful cookie in the world. 491 million sold so far...

Note: the evolution of the Oreo embossing: 1912, 1924 and today
Hmm. For a cookie that's all about comfort and milk and coziness... it's being a bit suspicious. For instance...

Who invented it? 
No one knows. Apparently a William Turnier. But Nabisco can't confirm he ever worked for the company.

What does the design mean?
It could be just an innocent symbol--this circle topped with a two-bar cross with the word "OREO" inside--merely "an early European symbol for quality" as Nabisco claim--or it it a Cross of Lorraine, as carried by the Knights Templar into the crusades? Or is that dot with four triangles poking out not a four-leaf clover at all but... the cross pattee--also associated with the Knights Templar, as well as the German military and today's Freemasons. Aha! It's DaVinci Code Cookie!

Meanwhile in England... we have Custard Creams and Rich Tea and Morning Coffee biscuits. But they are just quietly going about their business and not nearly as suspicious and besides no one seems to notice them: not the lovely ferns on the Custard Cream (unchanged since their debut in 1910) nor the Art Deco cup on the Morning Coffee biscuits.
Which means either they just have Proper British Reserve or possibly are just much more effective spy biscuits than those show off Oreos.

Either way all this talk of biscuits and cookies must mean one thing: time to put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea... 


Monday, September 5, 2011

learning to see: the barnes foundation


Did you get to see it before it shut in June? If not here's your chance... an interactive tour of the old museum. (The Barnes Foundation was established by Albert C Barnes, opened in 1925 and is being moved to a new building.)

I went there a few years ago and loved it. The gallery reminds you of those Old Exhibitions from the 19th century where the paintings covered almost the whole wall--reach up to the ceiling. It's said to be one of the finest collections of 19th and 20th century paintings in the world. And it's all housed in a beautiful building.
What is distinctive about this collection though is that Albert Barnes chose and arranged the paintings in "wall ensembles" in the gallery--arranged intentionally to teach students how to see. 

The works of art come from different time periods, geographic areas and styles and are hung closely together and deliberately positioned in such a way to encourage you to compare and study. And it works. If you stand in front of each wall and wait, things you might have missed emerge, you start noticing what the paintings have in common, visual elements, shapes, colors, etc. 

A really cool way to learn to see.

Kind of like good writing--words put together, positioned in such a way that they open up a window on the world. And help you see. Which is the purpose of art--to make you see.


Monday, August 22, 2011

milky way

beautiful and awe inspiring
and what is happening just above our heads as we fill them with lists and worries and doubts...

Monday, August 15, 2011

mosaic of coolness

A lovely mosaic of Virginia Woolf's covers designed by Vanessa Bell--her sister.


via Woolfwriter via Maidontheshore

Monday, August 8, 2011

proudly clogging up arteries + inboxes...

SPAM was invented in 1937 by Hormel Foods (found at It is pre-cooked port and ham in a can and was called "Hormel Spiced Ham" originally but the name didn't stick so they held a contest to rename the affordable meat product. The winning name was SPAM.

What does it stand for? 

In Britain it was a popular wartime food and they called it "Specially Processed American Meat" or "Supply Pressed American Meat" (yum). But there are other theories for what the acronym stands for...

"Something Posing As Meat" or

"Spare Parts Animal Meat"

(why not come up with your own??)

Then of course there's the famous Monty Python sketch...

Even after the poor woman tells the cafe she doesn't want spam, can't stand spam, hates spam--it is relentless, it just keeps coming... and that's how we got the name for that other thing that's relentless, that just keeps coming even when we don't want it, can't stand it, hate it--spam in our inboxes.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


In case you haven't seen it... here it is... the JSB Read Aloud Edition (just the same only extra gorgeous and big). The size of a picture book!

Zondervan wanted to make it bigger so you can read it to groups and everyone can see the pictures. Or just read it on your lap and enjoy it.

(It's gorgeous, has a beautiful binding, a reader's ribbon and looks somehow like it should always have been this big!)

(photos by Sarah Short and used by permission--thank you Sarah!)


Monday, July 25, 2011

Americanisms and The Queen's English


The BBC did an article all about why Americanisms are so irritating (here) and then did a column (here) where people in Britain were invited to write in with their least favorite Americanisms--their pet peeves.

The Economist then followed up with another one that showed that at least 20% of them were British in origin (here)

In the end it seems that what all of this really shows up is this: the anti Americanism in the UK that believes if something is ugly it must have come from the States...

Here's the text from the Johnson column in The Economist this week (LOVE it!):

...never let facts get in the way of a good rant. let the peeving being! The BBC published a top 50. The original peeve is in bold; I've removed the peevers' names and added my comments:

The next time someone tells you something is the "least worst option", tell them that their most best option is learning grammar.  

Besides the fact that the double comparative/superlative had a long life in English ("the most straitest sect of our religion", Acts 26:5, KJV, for example), this is obviously playful, not ignorant.  

To "wait on" instead of "wait for" when you're not a waiter - once read a friend's comment about being in a station waiting on a train.  

Yes, to "wait on" also means to be a waiter, but writers from Chaucer to Milton to George Eliot used "to wait on" in various senses including "to observe", "to lie in wait for", "to await" and more. 

Is "physicality" a real word?  

Yes, first noted in a book published in London in 1827. 

Transportation. What's wrong with Transport?

Nothing. What's wrong with transportation? Brist prefer "to orientate oneself", Americans prefer "to orient oneself". Not worse, just different.

What kind of word is "gotten"? It makes me shudder. 

It is the original past participle, from old Norse getenn, now obsolete in English English, but surviving in America. Participial "got" is the newcomer.

"I'm good" for "I'm well". That'll do for a start.  
That'll do what?  Linking verbs including "am" take adjectives, not adverbs. "I'm healthy," not "I'm healthily." There's nothing wrong with "I'm well", since "well" is also an adjective, but nothing wrong with "I'm good" either.
"Oftentimes" just makes me shiver with annoyance. Fortunately I've not noticed it over here yet.

The OED cites six hundred years of British usage of "oftentimes", including the King James Version and Wordsworth. 

"Hike" a price. Does that mean people who do that are hikers? No, hikers are ramblers!  

And words sometimes have multiple meanings!

 Going forward? If I do I shall collide with my keyboard.  

If you cannot understand metaphorical language, colliding with your keyboard is the least of your worries.  A visit to the neurologist may be in order. 

 The most annoying Americanism is "a million and a half" when it is clearly one and a half million! A million and a half is 1,000,000.5 where one and a half million is 1,500,000.   

By that logic, could "one and a half million" not be 1 + 500,000, or 500,001?


That's enough peeving on peeving. Many of these are truly Americanisms, and many are (to my eye) annoying, too.  But so many share one or more of these features: 

1) selective hyper-literalism: refusal to understand idioms as such

2) amnesia, or else the " recency illusion": A belief that something quite old is new

3) simple anti-Americanism: the belief that if something is ugly, it must have come from the states

Since Matthew Engel and the Beeb's readers had so little trouble spouting dozens and dozens of "Americanisms" they dislike (the BBC closed comments after 1,295 had arrived), and since such a high proportion seem to be false Americanisms, I propose that this is a common thing, and thus deserves its own count noun. We all know what Americanisms are. From here on, Johnson will refer to false Americanisms used to take a cheap but ill-aimed transatlantic shot as "Anti-Americanisms". 


Monday, July 18, 2011

The Big Bad Handbag

It's one of my most favorites of all... it's probably the best of all my books to read aloud... it's definitely the favorite with children and even though it's out of print... I know it'll come back one day. That is, if children have anything to do with it.

It's called Handbag Friends and it's a book disguised as a pink handbag which has not only a song and some little friends inside but also a nasty purply pimply monster called Clasp. This is a little clip/trailer from the book.

I regularly go into public schools to read to children (I'm part of the Learning Leaders author program--a wonderful program called Author's Read Aloud)--and my school is in Redhook Brooklyn. I go and read to the littlest ones. So they're around 4. A room full of four year olds!

And they are amazing. I'm spoiled now. They are the best ever children to read to! First of all they sit through this long book (64 pages, 3 episodes) and join in the song and they help the Handbag Friends fight the monster and they join in all the fun along the way. And then, almost without fail, every single time I get the same response at the end.

A spontaneous group hug.

I'm not sure it gets much better than that for a writer, do you?

Except maybe if it's this. One time we had Q & A after the Handbag Friends story. And a little girl's hand shot up. "Yes," I said, "What question did you have?"

"I love you" she said.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Privacy and Popularity


I've been thinking lately--how do you keep perspective as a writer or an artist? How do you guard your wonder, openness, vision--how do you stay true to your voice--in the face of the obstacles that want to squelch it. And you.

What obstacles? 

Oh pesky little things like sales figures, amazon rankings, bestseller charts, finding not one single book of yours in a bookstore... buzzing biting flies that distract you from the main thing, the first thing, the one thing--writing. And if you focus on them, can leave you feeling defeated and despairing. Squelched. Silenced.

And then I read this article about Cy Twombly who died last week. One of my favorite artists. And am reminded where my focus should only ever be. 

When asked about reputation and artistic acclaim, he said: "It's something I don't think about. If it happens, it happens, but don't bother me with it. I couldn't care less."

The article says something else: "He seemed to welcome the privacy that came with unpopularity."

Food for thought when next you look at sales figures or amazon rankings. "I couldn't care less."

Would you rather be thinking about your art--or what everyone else is saying or doing? 

Are you following someone else's path or blazing your own unique one?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

JSB curriculum


It's ground breaking. It's fun. And best of all... it's coming! (And every single lesson has a brief commentary for the teacher from Tim Keller.) More here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

musical haircuts

via Jago

a visual compendium of notable hair cuts in popular music (you can zoom in if you click on
happy 4th!

Monday, June 20, 2011

crimes against design

via NYT Arts Section

"Bad design comes in many forms. Things that are unsafe. Things that don't work properly, or are unnecessarily complicated. Things that are ethically or environmentally unsound. Crimes against design are different. They deprive us of the joy of great design, by wrecking or replacing it." Alice Rawsthorn

Two examples. Citroen and UPS.

UpslogoUPS logo--that wonderful "present" tied with string--was designed by Paul Rand in 1961--now it's gone, replaced by a shiny slick nothing. The "golden comb-over".

Citroen had their logo since 1919.

The old logo: a pair of upturned Vs modeled on the herringbone gears invented by the company's founder, Andre-Gustave Citroen. It reminded you that the car was rooted in design and innovation.

Gone, replaced by a bland corporate nothing logo.

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