Day Brightener

Not long ago, I did something I don’t usually do: I bought flowers for myself. They immediately brightened my day. Even the cashier complimented them.

A picture can’t adequately show dimension. The daisies are four inches in diameter. Every time I look at them, I feel a tiny spark of happiness. Gerbera daisies are my favorite flower—the one I go to on flower-giving occasions. And no matter how sad or ill the recipient feels, he or she usually mentions the beauty of these flowers.

They are a reminder to me today to give a ray of light, rather than darkness. The other day, a well-meaning person snail mailed to me a long, negative news article. I’m not exactly sure why, other than to ask me to comment on something that frightened her. I won’t say what the story was. I sent a note back saying I didn’t have a comment—that I could only provide an uninformed opinion that wouldn’t change the situation. Yet there was a noticeable contrast to how I felt in that moment and how I felt the moment I saw those daisies at the grocery store.

I didn’t mention the above to shame the person, nor am I soliciting comments that would do so. I couldn’t give her the assurance she seemed to want. After all, I’m not God. And I totally get it. Things are happening. Sometimes life feels like it’s out of control. In those moments I’m often tempted to share whatever bad mood I’m in or whatever horrible thing that has happened.

But the daisies remind me of the effect of sharing joy. As I mentioned, even the cashier complimented them. Her countenance noticeably brightened as she rang up the purchase.

How has someone brightened your countenance lately?

Photos by L. Marie.

Delightfully Weird

The other day, I watched a 2019 animated movie called Klaus on Netflix. Maybe you’ve seen it? It was written and directed by Sergio Pablos, a former Disney animator. Click here to get the Wikipedia explanation for it.

When a scene from the movie popped up on Netflix, there was something about the weird looking town and people that instantly appealed to me. They reminded me of art by Edward Gorey—surreal, but in color. If you’re not familiar with who Edward Gorey is, click here. More than likely, you’ve seen his work somewhere. Here’s a clue: if you watched Mystery on PBS back in the day, his artwork was used in the intro. Click here for a video of that. You know it’s old, because Vincent Price used to be the host. He died in 1993.

Anyway, back to Klaus—this post is not a review of that movie, but merely an expression of my admiration for how gutsy Pablos was to retell such a familiar story—the story of Santa Claus—in such a quirky way. Though I was not directly reminded of the movie Elf, I was reminded of how I felt watching Elf for the first time—how it captured my attention immediately to the point where watching it became a yearly tradition.

Klaus is not like Elf though. Many of the characters in the film are unlikable for quite some time. For me that is usually a serious strike against a film. Normally, I would’ve stopped watching it. But the premise was so weird, engaging, and oddly sweet, that I couldn’t stop looking at it.

It’s not for everybody though, I’m sure, especially since some aspects of it do not make  sense. But it caused me to consider how a filmmaker or an author can retell an old story in a fresh way without going off the rails. I wish I had tips for how that can be done. Though I don’t usually retell stories, I started a fairy tale retelling a couple years ago, but stopped, having lost inspiration for it along the way. So I admire the people who stick with a retelling and wind up getting their story published.

Well, now I will segue to an original story told by the great Sandra Nickel. The winner of Big Bear and Little Fish is Jennie!

   

Jennie, please comment below to confirm. Please note that the book will not be sent until after Sandra’s book signing (after September 24). If you have a particular dedication, please let me know in the comments. And thank you to all who commented.

Klaus poster from Wikipedia. Klaus cast and black and white image from somewhere on the internet. Klaus Krum-Ellingboe image from Jasonsmovieblog

Check This Out: Big Bear and Little Fish

I’m so glad to welcome back to the blog the amazing Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, Big Bear and Little Fish. It was illustrated by Il Sung Na and published on September 6 by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group. Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

Check out the book trailer:

El Space: Well, now, you’ve gone from nonfiction to fiction! Congratulations! Please tell us how this book came about.
Sandra: After you and I graduated with our MFAs in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I did an extra semester. This time, I focused on picture books, and had the great luck to study with Kathi Appelt, who as you know, is a Newbery Honoree and a two-time National Book Award finalist. During that semester, I worked on nonfiction, but I also wanted to understand how some of my favorite fiction authors did what they did. I was particularly fascinated by Arnold Lobel, who wrote stories with heart and humor, and a touch of philosophy.

I read every single one of Lobel’s stories. I read them slowly and repeatedly over a period of four weeks. After I finished, I didn’t have much time for the writing I owed Kathi Appelt. I was worried. But then, I opened my laptop and Bear and Little Fish tumbled out. I think Kathi was a little surprised when they landed on her desk. They were so different from everything else I had sent her. But there they were, all the same, a bear and a fish.

 

El Space: How did you shape this tale of friendship? Did you base Bear or Fish on people you know or did you start from scratch? Why or why not?
Sandra: I didn’t consciously base Bear or Fish on anyone. But I must admit that I’m a lot like Bear. I’m a worrier, as she is. I try hard to get things right, but so often don’t. So, I guess you could say, I’m Bear. And what about Fish? Thanks to your question, I’ve realized that Fish is a conglomerate of my close friends. She’s thoughtful, a bit of a philosopher, and wonderfully positive and upbeat. She’s a fantastic friend like my friends and the perfect counterpoint for the worriers of the world.

El Space: Kirkus called Big Bear and Little Fish a “lovely, gently humorous story,” and “a delightful tale.” I totally agree. What were the challenges that came with writing your book?
Sandra: There really weren’t any challenges. As soon as I opened my laptop after reading Arnold Lobel’s books, Bear and Fish were there. I had heard other authors talk about how their books wrote themselves. How characters showed up and talked to them. How the characters told their own story. But this had never happened to me, not until Bear and Fish. And what a joy it was to listen to them and write down their story! It was so much easier than my nonfiction books, with their months of research and just as many months of reducing that research down to a thirty-two-page story.

El Space: Il Sung Na’s illustrations are just perfect for your book. Do you have a favorite spread? If so, which one?
Sandra: I 100% agree about Il Sung Na being the perfect illustrator for Big Bear and Little Fish. I had this incredible wave of joy the first time I saw the final illustrations. That cover! The look on Bear’s face is so befuddled, you can’t wait to throw open the book and find out what is going on. And those endpapers! I laugh each time I see Il Sung’s vignettes of Bear’s different emotional states as she adjusts to the idea of a little fish being in her life.

As for my favorite spread, hmm, that’s a tough one. I really do love all the illustrations. But for you, L. Marie, I made myself choose one—well, two. I love the spread where Bear is bringing Fish home for the first time. Il Sung has given Bear an extremely worried expression and emphasized her emotional state by casting her in a purple shadow that is reminiscent of a dark fairytale forest. The combination of setting and Bear psychology is brilliant! Bookending this spread, toward the end of the story, is Bear after she’s walked through all the shadows and worry. Here, she’s on the other side of her discoveries about Fish, and more importantly, the discoveries about herself! She is surrounded by bright light, she carries Fish on her head, and is thrilled with her place in the world. The juxtaposition of these two spreads is inspired and so fulfilling for the reader.

El Space: Your book is so quirky. Are there any humorous picture books that inspired you? If so, which ones?
Sandra: You’ve already heard about Arnold Lobel and how he inspired me. During my extra semester, I also read other friendship stories. George and Martha by James Marshall and Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. We’re all used to these stories now, having read them since childhood, so we may have forgotten how really quirky the characters in these books are. George likes to peek in windows. Martha loves looking at herself in mirrors so much that she wakes up during the night to look at herself some more. And as for the Hundred Acres Wood, it includes a piglet who is scared of nearly everything, an owl who is not as smart as he thinks he is, a donkey who has become synonymous with doom and gloom, and a bear who thinks he is empty headed but is, in fact, quite the philosopher. Each of these characters is fun and funny because of their utter uniqueness. When it comes to humor, the more the character is filled with foibles, the more fun it is.

   

El Space: How will you challenge yourself next? What are you working on?
Sandra: I just received an offer for my most recent nonfiction book, so I think I’ll turn to fiction again. Maybe a garden story. Or, one about friends. Or, one about ideas. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even dream up a sequel to Big Bear and Little Fish. Wouldn’t that be fun!?!

Yes it would! Thank you, Sandra, for being my guest!

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Big Bear and Little Fish? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

One of you will received a signed copy of Big Bear and Little Fish. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Check out Sandra’s other books:

 

Author photo, Big Bear and Little Fish book covers and spread courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Il Sung Na. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Other book covers from Goodreads. Kathi Appelt photo from the VCFA website.

Imagine


Now that John Lennon’s iconic song is probably running through your mind, I will start by stating I’ve always been fascinated with the imagination. To think that trips to the Moon and Mars started in the imagination. Oh I know that linear algebra, differential equations, and single variable/multivariable calculus played a role. But imagination paved the way.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “The imagination is a muscle that must be exercised” or words to that effect. When I searched for that saying via Google, I found it attributed to several people, including Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. So while I don’t really know who said it first, I can see the truth in it.

In an increasingly visual-oriented culture, exercising the imagination can be challenging with so many images, videos, TV shows, and movies available.

Please hear me: I am not against these items. They are greatly appreciated. But a viewer doesn’t have to put much effort into imagining how a character looks if that character is shown to him or her on the screen. And I know that some characters differ from book to screen. If you read a book before seeing an adaptation, you might have a different picture in your head concerning a character, despite what the screen shows. But for me, even if I have actively pictured a character in my mind, seeing that character in a film adaptation changes the landscape of my imagination. Case in point: nowadays, whenever I read The Lord of the Rings, I always picture Frodo as Elijah Wood, who played him in Peter Jackson’s trilogy though I first read the trilogy many years before those movies debuted. This is not an indictment against Elijah, who was excellent as Frodo. But now, I find I can’t “unsee” him and picture Frodo on my own.

Reading plays a large part in refueling my imagination. Good stories give my mind a needed workout. Whenever I’m in a reading slump, my imagination shrivels. As a further consequence, I’m never fully satisfied with any fiction I attempt. Though I am creating my own world in my stories and not trying to copy anyone else’s, I still need the mental exercise I gain by traveling through the worlds others create. And yes, realistic fiction counts as creating a world, because you have to make the world we know vivid enough to engage a reader.

What fuels your imagination?

Nicki, you don’t have to imagine yourself holding a copy of Big Rig by Louise Hawes—at least not for long (click here for that interview), because soon you will do so in reality! Please comment below to confirm.

 

Thank you to all who commented.

Imagination image by L. Marie. Elijah Wood as Frodo photo found somewhere on Pinterest.