Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hooked on my book- A Father's Letter

On a very hot summer day I received a heartwarming and humorous letter about my cold-weather book, Let It Snow. A Dad had written me about his daughters' love (obsession?) with my book. There are days, as I sit in my studio, that I wonder if what I create will have a connection with children. It's gratifying to know that my books make their way into the hands and hearts of kids and parents. With permission, I have posted this beautiful letter below. Enjoy. And yes- that tattered and torn book will be replaced with a new autographed copy!  

Dear Maryann, 

I wanted to write to thank you for your book Let it Snow. When my oldest daughter was born, four and a half years ago, someone gave us the book, and we have read it so many times now that the corners of the pages are wearing thin (see attached photo).

"Swirling twirling first snowflakes, skating spinning on frozen lakes" – MaryAnn, let me tell you something: I wrote that from memory, and my memory's not even that great. But seriously, there's no way I'm going to forget that book.  


I've read Let it Snow to my child in the voice of a kindergarten teacher; I've done it in the voice of rapper Snoop Dogg; and I've read it as quickly as possible because it's the second time through (again); and I've read it until I didn't want to read it anymore - but there was just one problem: my daughter wanted to keep reading it, and then we had another child, and she wanted to read it too.  

A couple of months ago, I realized that the book was special to us as a family, and here's why: because when I look back on my own childhood and remember the pages of specific storybooks, I realize that they have become the snapshots of my childhood feelings.  Let it Snow is now one of those books for my little girls.  

Maybe one of these days when my girls grow up, they'll still remember the back-and-forth "but then" rhythm of the book; maybe they'll remember all the times we searched for the doggie and the teddy bear in each picture, sometimes finding one, usually both.  But even if they don't remember the specifics, I'll bet they're going to remember flashes of a few lovely pictures from the book and the feeling of being in Mom and Dad's arms as we read it to them.

So that's my extended way of saying thanks for writing a great book.  It has not only become a favorite of my daughters', it has become a favorite of mine.

Joshua Rogers

 


Thank you so much Joshua. Looks like your girls will be receiving the Seasons series. Get Ready to READ (and read and read and read)!- Maryann

Monday, June 23, 2014

Welcome to the Writing Process: An Author/Illustrator Blog Tour


I was invited to join this Blog Tour by the very talented Jennifer Goldfinger.  I met Jennifer through a professional Author-Illustrator list-serve where we discuss the mysteries and secrets of the children’s publishing world. (Well, not really). Jennifer and I finally met in person at the recent SCBWI New England Conference…

Now on with the tour:

It has been an extremely busy few years for me. I took a year off from illustrating in 2013 to focus on bringing my Princess K.I.M. books to the stage in Princess K.I.M. The Musical. (Read more about our Upcoming Summer show!)

2013 also brought the publication of two books, which I wrote and illustrated:




What am I currently working on?

I am back at my drawing desk working on an exciting project, one which has a very personal connection to my life and that of my daughter. My next picture-book, is called JANINE, and was inspired by my daughter Janine! Along with the book, Janine and I are developing a corresponding website; www.JaninesParty.com (The site is live, but we are still filling it with content- so continue to check back.)

My daughter has given me permission to develop a character based on her life as an individual with disabilities. My real life Janine is now 28 years old and is quite an inspiration. Despite her challenges, she faces each day with optimism. Janine, the main character in the book, is a spunky, endearing child who happens to be on the Autism Spectrum. The basic theme, without giving the story away, is about embracing differences, staying true to who you are, and standing up for others.  
Here is a Mock-up cover. Janine publishes in Spring 2015 by Albert Whitman:


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is the first time in my career where I am hoping to use a book and it’s website to inspire social change. Our mission for the book, Janine, and the JaninesParty.com website is to help change public perception of children with disabilities and increase awareness and acceptance through children's literature, poetry and film. (Changing public perception has become a family passion. Please view my daughter Kristin's awarding winning documentary short on the subject: FOLLOWING FLAME.)

My daughter Janine and I hope to tour schools together in the Spring. STAND UP. INSPIRE, INCLUDE and INVITE will be our theme. Janine is an amazing role model, not only for kids with challenges, but for all children, their parents and teachers. Yes, she was teased and bullied, and the book is based on a real incident, but through it all, she learned to embrace who she is, and focus on the things she can do, not the things she cannot. Janine hopes to   use her own experiences and stories for positive good and encourage children to stand up for eachother.
Book Janine.
Real Janine. (@ 1993)

Why do I write what I write?

I have wanted to write this story for years, but it took me awhile to figure out how. As a parent of a child with disabilities, I became an advocate, helping Janine to navigate through school, social situations and now life. We have kept our journey private, while sometimes enduring negative attitudes of society towards people with disabilities. When Janine was a child, there were not many books where the main character was disabled. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any. Publishers have recently been open to publishing more on this topic, (we are including a list of books on the website). Publishing has come a long way in 20 years, but I am hoping more books are created on the subject of disabilities. ALL kids want to read about themselves in books.

How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

1. Inspiration.  2. Words.  3. Dummy.   4. Submit.  5. Sell.  6. Create Art. (With a lot of edits, waiting, and revisions  in between!) Those who know my work, know that many of my stories, including Janine, are connected to experiences in my own life or that of my children or people I met along the way. The difficult part is finding the right publisher. Fortunately, this book sold fairly quickly to Albert Whitman, who has a long history of publishing topics which other publishers shy away from. My gratitude to my Editor, Kelly Barrales-Saylor and Albert Whitman for sharing my vision. 

Though it sold quickly, this story had been simmering in my head for years and years. I struggled with HOW to show a disabled child with autistic-like traits without saying the word disabled, autism or CP in the text. My goal all along was to show the character for who she IS, without a label, and I think I accomplished that goal in Janine.

Here are some views of my illustration process.
Dummies, sketches and finishes for JANINE 
A messy desk after a day of painting.

Janine was an easy character to develop on paper. After all…I brought up the real Janine, a happy child who is now an inspiring adult. In Spring of 2015, I’ll get to share JANINE with the world…you are going to LOVE HER!

Thanks for visiting!

The tour continues next Monday with a friend and former Massachusetts College of Art classmate, Author and Illustrator Teresa Flavin http://www.teresaflavin.com/blog
Teresa now lives in West Yorkshire, England. Her final book in her MG trilogy from Candlewick publishes this July;


Happy Summer!
Maryann

Saturday, April 5, 2014

My Thanksgiving book- RE-ISSUED!

GOOD NEWS! After nearly 25 years in print and 10 years out of print (and many twists and turns), HarperCollins has decided to bring my version of THANKSGIVING AT THE TAPPLETONS' back in print for Fall 2015!

I am thrilled that my illustrated version of Eileen Spinelli's classic book will soon be available again! (I posted about my Thanksgiving at the Tappletons' publishing saga in Nov. 2013. Scroll to read.)  Thank you readers for contacting HarperCollins or writing your thoughts online, asking that they "bring back the people". I'll be illustrating a brand new cover, but other than that, it will be the book you remember. (For those who don't know this book…please look for it in the Fall of 2015…It will soon become your favorite Thanksgiving book too!)

Thanksgiving has come early for me. Thank you to the parents, grandparents and teachers who have continued to love my Tappleton family. A special thanks to  Eileen Spinelli for writing a timeless story, and to HarperCollins for bringing my version back in print!

(But let's not rush the seasons…Happy Spring!)
With a grateful heart-
Maryann


Friday, March 14, 2014

Reconnecting with David McPhail


I recently reconnected with Author-Illustrator, David McPhail at a recent book event and exhibit for New Hampshire Illustrators at the Amherst, NH Library. I finally got the chance to thank him.


Nearly 30 years ago David generously donated his time to share his wisdom about the children’s book industry and the craft of illustration to a young group of new and aspiring authors and illustrators. I was among that SCBWI critique group who, in the mid eighties, met monthly in a private home in Cambridge, MA. David was not much older than us, but he was already established in children’s book publishing. At the time, I was a “newbie”. I had only published a few books as the illustrator, and had not yet sold anything as an Author-Illustrator (but I was trying!)

David didn’t remember coming to our meeting that morning, nor did he remember me…(and I didn’t expect him to.)  But I did remembered him and after all these years I finally got the chance to thank him for his inspiration, wisdom and encouragement in the very early days of my career.

Even back then, I was a big fan of David's work, especially his pen and ink drawings. During the  Library event, we reminisced about publishing and illustrating children’s books in the 1980’s. Things were different.  The tenuous process of pre-separating art by hand was still commonplace. (Thankfully, soon after, the industry moved into illustrating in full color.) 
'Bumper Tubbs' by David McPhail. HM 1980, pre-separated art

At the time, there were many independent publishers. Books deals were made with an editor over a cup of coffee. There were fewer committees, less hoops to jump through, and quicker decisions. The industry might have changed, but good illustration is timeless. After over 200 children’s books published, David continues to illustrate and write beautiful books.
'Mole Music" By David McPhail, Square Fish/Macmillan 2001


"The Family Tree" By David McPhail, Henry Holt 2012


















Not often do we get the opportunity to thank someone who inspired our career. Thanks David. In turn- I hope that I will somehow inspire others.

Is there anyone who inspired your career or art? Maybe it is time to thank them.
-Maryann
(All illustrations posted by permission - Copyright David McPhail, All Rights Reserved)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

SKYPE Classroom Visits

I recently had a SKYPE School Visit with Johnston Elementary School in Highland, IN. (My very First Skype Visit!) The Second Grade students were reading my book, Mr. Tanen's Tie Trouble, which is included in the 2nd Grade HMH Journeys Common Core Reader. Mr. Ashman wrote me with some questions from their class, and I suggested I "visit" the students via Skype.
Published by Albert Whitman & Co.

Mr. Ashman and Mrs. Johnson's 2nd grade students joined together to asked their questions in "person". I told the class about the inspiration behind the book and showed them the process. They got to see my NH studio (and even met my dog Bianca!) I do many "in-person" school visits, but SKYPE a great way for the students to connect with the Author of a book they are reading and for the Author to connect with schools many, many miles away.
Me in my studio in New Hampshire talking to 2nd Graders in Indiana

The students where prepared with questions. Great Job 2nd Graders!
I am NOW offering Skype Classroom visits. If your school is interested in a SKYPE visit, (or an in-person visit!) please check out the VISITS link on my website. 
Wherever you are- Keep Reading!
Maryann
PS- BIG Shout out to Johnston School 2nd Graders! Great to meet you!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Ready-Set SCHOOL VISITS

Happy 2014!


The New Year always takes me out of my studio and on the road to visit schools. I am excited and ready to meet my readers! The most rewarding visits, for both the students and myself, are those where the students are READY for me!  Before I arrive the teachers and librarians prepare the students by reading many of my books and doing related activities. (Free downloadable activities sheets are on my website.)


Below are some Spring 2013 photos from Ohio and New Hampshire. One popular pre-visit book activity is from MR. TANEN TIES. After reading the Mr. Tanen Tie books, the entire school gets involved in creating ties for their own Principals and staff. Life size photos help inspire the kids. Many times the school sponsors a "Tie Contest", having the students parade their creative and imaginative ties, sometimes resulting in a "Best Tie Awards.
Milan, Ohio

Meredith, NH


















Drawing Pooch for the kindergarteners.

One of my Spring Selections.
Activity sheets for my book JACK'S TALENT
For those schools who expect me- I'll see you soon! For those schools interested in a school visit this Spring, please contact me at mcleffler@aol.com
Get Ready and READ!
Maryann

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday Wishes



Tis The Season to be JOLLY....


Warm Holiday Wishes from
Maryann Cocca-Leffler

(inspiration for illustration- my daughter, Janine as a kid!)