Monday, August 31, 2009

Great Timer *Miriam Cohen*

As the business of juvenile books changes and the pace quickens to meet the needs of the modern world, it is easy to lose track of those who paved the path for us. I call these wayshowers the “Great Timers”. Miriam Cohen is a children’s book author and illustrator Great Timer.
Her 'First Grade Friends Series' includes her classic “Will I Have a Friend?”. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban and published by Macmillan in 1967.

It has since been re-published with Star Bright Books.

Miriam and I first met in the early 1990’s. We were visiting authors for the NYC public schools with the School Volunteer Program (now called Learning Leaders). We've remained dear friends ever since.

In 1996, Miriam mentioned a manuscript called “Down in the Subway” that she was trying to publish. She thought my art would be a good match. She also mentioned she saw a white dove in her backyard gardens in Queens. Miriam knew for the past few months I’d been feeding a white dove visiting my backyard gardens in Brooklyn.

An offer for “Down in the Subway” came quickly from editor Richard Jackson at DK, Ink. Traditionally, authors and illustrators are only chosen by the publisher. Miriam made some very brave, untraditional moves. She would not sell the book unless I was the illustrator. When the book went out of print, it was re-sold to Star Bright Books in 2003. “Down in the Subway” is now 11 years old. It was has won honors, and it was selected for the NYC and Brooklyn Public Library's reading lists. In 2008, the book was chosen as a New York Times Great Children's Read.

A white dove has become my good luck symbol and is illustrated somewhere in all my picture books.

Miriam was gracious enough to give me an interview.

Q: Why do you think “Down in the Subway” became a NYC classic?

MC: The story can be a classic anywhere because it taps into the world of pretend and fantasy which is in every child (and adults too).

Q: What was the idea behind the story?

MC: It was written for my dear friend Gladys who *was* the Island Lady. She lived down the street from me for many years. Gladys told me stories of being born and raised on the island of St Croix in the Caribbean. She was a modest women who was full of joy and fun and really loved children. Gladys became very ill. I visited her in the hospital the day she passed away. On the subway coming home from the hospital I felt very sad. I looked across the aisle at a row of empty seats and suddenly I saw Gladys sitting there smiling at me. I knew then I was going to write about Gladys; to tell the world what a great friend I had. I’ve found out since, that her grandchildren take “Down In the Subway” to school for Show and Tell. So I feel that Gladys is still alive.

Q: Why did you insist to the editor (Richard Jackson/DK Ink) that I must illustrate “Down in the Subway”?

MC: I had fallen in love with your books “My Father’s Luncheonette” and “Aunt Lilly’s Laundromat. The chutzpha to insist was spontaneous. It popped into my mind that you had to illustrate the book about Gladys because of your art syle and the heart that is in your books.

Q: What are you currently working on?

MC: My latest book, “Layla’s Headscarf” illustrated by Ron Himler is released September 1, 2009 with Star Bright Books. It’s about a little Muslim girl in first grade.

Thanks, Miriam!

Illustration Details from "Down in the Subway'. Copyright 1998 Melanie Hope Greenberg

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Events / Presentation at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

On August 8, 2009 I presented an author-illustrator talk and demonstration of my creative picture book process at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. What an honor! When I first arrived I noticed Eric Carle's iconic catepillar over the lobby desk. The museum looks like Carle's art. Open spaces sprinkled with vibrant kalediscope colors. Carle's huge colorful paintings represent his art technique of hand-painted paper cut for collage. That doorway in the middle led to two large gallery spaces. I was not allowed to take photos in there. In the first gallery was Tomie DePaola's solo exhibition in celebration of his 75th birthday. I took a really close up look at his paint and color techniques and the wonderful line work. What joy! The second gallery portrayed Eric Carle's life and work. It was fun to see his rough sketches, paint brushes, pallettes and the cut paper he made for his books. Best of all, in the lobby was a giant colorful cake for Eric Carle's 80th birthday on June 25, 2009.
People filled the library. I read "MERMAIDS ON PARADE".
What a good karma filled day. I saw Brooklyn friends I haven't seen in 15 years! Filming me is Rebecca Migdal, an artist I knew back in the day from CBIG the Children's Book Illustrators Group. Currently, Rebecca has her own cool comics online and in print. Here I am displaying the photo of the white dove visiting my window. I explain that I hide the white dove in all of my books. Then a book signing for the fabulous gift store well stocked with my books. THANK YOU! Another Brooklyn friend, Louise Larsen and her beautiful family visiting from California attended my presentation. Amazing! Other visitors were Andy Laties, Director of the Eric Carle Museum gift shop, Mary McDonough (taking this photo) and Paul McDonough of the Child At Heart Gallery and their granddaughter. HAPPY 80th BIRTHDAY, ERIC CARLE! Thank you for your beautiful art and books. Without your talents and gifts, our paths might not ever have crossed, nor my joyful experience of visiting your museum.

All Photos Copyright 2009
Photo Credits: Melanie Hope Greenberg, Louise Larsen, Mary McDonough

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Artists In My Book / *Veronica Otto*

Veronica Otto has been marching as a Superfine Dinette in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade for several years. This year she plans on launching her new line of resort clothing for women. Be on the lookout for her Hulili Collection.

Veronica sipping soda through a straw in MERMAIDS ON PARADE. My open minded friends not only transform from human to mermaid but even change skin tones.

Q: If you had a mermaid name what would it be?

VO: Boogie Hula
Q: What does Coney Island mean to you?

VO: It's totally nostalgic of my youth when my family would go to Coney and spend the day.. and now it represents the kick-off of summer participating in the Mermaid Parade with the Dinettes. All around Coney = fun!

Q: Why do you enjoy marching in the Mermaid Parade?

VO: The crowd is awesome, everyone is having a wonderful time and it's a candy colored kaleidoscope of fun with my friends.

Q: What are you currently working on?

VO: Designing a women's resort line which hasn't hit the market yet!

Thanks, Veronica! All best with your new launch.

Illustration: Detail from MERMAIDS ON PARADE GP Putnam's Sons. Copyright 2008 Melanie Hope Greenberg