Illustration Station, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

Little Elliot, BIG FUN is here!

I’ve never been a thrill seeker, at least when it comes to amusement parks. While I’ve slightly expanded my joyride repertoire, I still prefer my feet on the ground, and an ice cream cone in my hand.

"Keep that ground where I can see it!"

“Keep that ground where I can see it!”

One time, when I was very little (…ok, I was 14), a group of friends convinced dragged me onto a ride at an amusement park. It was a big platform that was connected to a giant sun by a very long arm, which would rotate around the sun to a height of (by my estimation) ten thousand feet. Apparently, my face looked something like a mood ring before I fainted on my friend, woke up, and nearly threw up Exorcist style. But my buddy Jim squeezed me tight with one arm and cupped his other hand over my mouth and screamed bloody murder until the technician stopped the ride early. I almost died. I mean, I thought I was going to. But I didn’t. My friend was there for me, and after we got off the devil’s slingshot, we had a really good time.

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In Little Elliot, BIG FUN, Elliot and his friend Mouse go to Coney Island to see the sights and ride the rides. Mouse wants to go on the wet rides, the dizzy rides, and the fast rides! Poor Elliot is not up to it. Even when he tries to take it easy, the chaos of Coney Island sends Elliot on a pandemonious misadventure and Mouse on a wild goose chase.  

funhouseLife presents us with many rides. Some are more inviting than others. Sometimes we have to get on rides that we don’t want to get on. While it’s great to have friends around to have fun, it’s these scary times when we really need friends close by. In this book, Little Elliot and Mouse continue to show us what friendship is all about, but this time they also show us great courage. Elliot musters the courage to face his fears, while Mouse has the courage and patience to be there for him.

beachLike Elliot, I have been afraid of lots of rides, both at the park and in my life. I’ve been very blessed to have many friends who double as heroes. I hope that I have been able to return the favor from time to time. It’s important to know that you’re not riding this roller coaster alone. We need to be good friends and hold each other’s hands…and maybe also a vomit bag.

Why Coney Island?

Luna Park at night c.1937

Luna Park at night c.1937

While I was doing research for Little Elliot, Big City and Little Elliot, Big Family, I looked at many photos and films ofNew York City during late 1930s and early 1940s. Eventually, I stumbled upon Ken Burn’s documentary, Coney Island. After watching it, I knew exactly where Little Elliot and Mouse should go next. The old film clips are totally mesmerizing. Nothing quite says “summer in New York City” like Coney Island. I love living vicariously through Elliot, who gets to see an enchanting world that is lost to us.

Coney Island was once a skyline of towers, turrets, and minarets. At its brightest, it was the product of visionaries that transported its visitors to a world of dreams and possibilities. It was, in its way, a wonder of the world that showcased the very heights of humanity’s imagination and innovation. At its darkest moments, Coney Island was scandalous, financially ruinous, and even morally reprehensible. It’s eventual downfall reminded us that joy is fleeting. Little Elliot, Big Fun walks the tightrope of hope and fear, and Coney Island is the perfect backdrop.

So much research!

It was a lot of FUN making this book, and also a lot of WORK! I did more research for this book than Big City and Big Family combined! What made it extra challenging is that not much of the Coney Island of that time still exists. The boardwalk was plagued by fires, while other parts of it were demolished by a certain opportunistic developer. In the early 20th century, Coney Island consisted of three large amusement parks: Luna Park, Steeplechase, and Dreamland, plus many small independent rides and stands. Most of what you see in BIG FUN is based on Luna and Steeplechase, while Dreamland burned down in 1911 (a real shame because it was truly enchanting and I would have loved to have drawn it in the book). It was challenging deciphering blurry vintage black and white photographs, and then trying to envision what a scene might look like from a different perspective.

Some iconic rides still stand, like the Parachute Jump (which is just decorative now), the Cyclone, and of course the Wonder Wheel, which is at the very height and heart of our story.

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I went to Coney Island several times to take photos and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the boardwalk.

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Dan and Katrina on the pier with the modern day boardwalk behind them.

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Ruth wolfs down a “Coney Island Red Hot”

Katrina and I ride the Wonder Wheel!

Katrina and I ride the Wonder Wheel!

Speedy (1928)

Aside from the documentary I mentioned earlier, I also watched many films featuring Coney Island, including Speedy, The Devil and Miss JonesEnemies: A Love Story, and for some added levity, The Warriors.

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photo by Morris Engle, 1938

I looked at many photographs, and my favorites were by Morris Engle, which I certainly reference in some illustrations in the book.

Pip and Flip, Reginald Marsh, 1932

Pip and Flip, Reginald Marsh, 1932

I also looked at many artists, including Reginald Marsh, Paul Cadmus, Harry Roseland, Benton Murdoch Spruance, plus many other nameless illustrators who created posters and other advertisements for Coney Island.

artist unkown

artist unkown

Easter Eggs!

I’ve hidden away a few surprises in the book as a thank you to some of my friends who have been there for me when I’ve been afraid.Berger'sBurgersThis Berger’s Burgers billboard is in honor of my friend and queen of wordplay, Samantha Berger, who I am making a book with soon!

Flora&HenryThis lovely couple is actually Flora and Henry from Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death.

GodwinaThere is a portrait of my magical editor, Laura Godwin, in the endpapers…

RuthRuth Chan is serving ice cream and 1930s realness on page 16.

stuffiesPage 19 features cameos galore, including Georgie & Feta from Where’s the Party?; my favorite childhood stuffed animal, Ricky Raccoon; my husband’s childhood teddy bear, Willy; my friend Sarah Jane Lapp‘s bunny, aptly named Bunny; the awesome bird friend from Boo-La-La Witch Spa illustrated by Isabel Roxas; and Snuggleford Cuddlebun from Samantha Berger’s Snoozefest!

ElephantColossusDon’t miss the double gatefold towards the end of the book! On the right side page, you’ll notice an elephant standing amongst the buildings. Well, that is also a building! In fact, it is the Elephantine Colossus, which was at one point or another a hotel, concert hall, and amusement bazaar. Elephantine_Colossus_Side_ViewIt stood on Surf Avenue from 1885 to 1896, when it burned down in one of Coney Island’s many fires. Though technically it wouldn’t have been around for Elliot to see in the late 1930s, I couldn’t resist paying tribute to our lost pachyderm palace.

SuzieThe “Suzie” is named after my mom.

Have Fun!

You can purchase a copy of Little Elliot, BIG FUN at your local bookstore or any major online retailer. Signed copies are also available from Books of Wonder. You can also visit my website for more information, links, and to check out my other books!

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Illustration Station

How to Kill Your Babies

I’ve got bad news for you. The beautiful baby that you gave birth to, loved, and nurtured, has grown into a monster. It must be stopped, and only YOU can stop it. I am of course speaking about the picture book that you’re working on, specifically the beautiful chrome car bumper you just drew, or the building facade that took you 5 hours to ink, or the cherry blossom tree that you spent 2 days painting (how can you mess up a tree, right?). Well, you’ve been missing the big picture. Literally. Take a nice step back and look at your entire composition. You see it now, don’t you? That bumper is actually not supposed to be shaped that way. The turret that you painstakingly drew each shingle on is out of perspective! And that cherry blossom tree is somehow crooked (but it’s a TREE!). I can see you mouthing that involuntary expletive. Go ahead, let it out, because this is going to suck. You are going to have to kill your baby.

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Geez man, let it GO!

I know what you’re thinking, “SCREW YOU, MAN! This is the best bumper I’ve ever drawn!” I hear you, because I just drew the best bumper I’ve ever drawn, and it was not shaped the way it is in real life (let’s blame the tricky chrome reflections in my reference!). But guess what? That crazed automobile collector who is going to buy my book because they know every minute detail about ’54 Chevys IS going to see that the bumper is inaccurate, and she WILL email me to complain about it (and maybe even give it a menacing review). AND, that’s on ME. If I’m making a book about cars, and I blatantly disregard the details that are going to make car enthusiasts swoon, then I’m not doing my job, and I’ve lost my credibility.

the bumper in question

the bumper in question–I also forgot the keyhole!!!

It’s not just about being technically accurate. You could be working in a completely abstract style that excuses you from lots of formal “art rules.” The fact remains: if there is something in your composition that is calling too much attention to itself in a way that has nothing to do with the plot, you’ve just pulled your reader out of the story! This is the LAST thing you want to happen. No bumper is that precious.

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This can be applied to writing, illustrating, and all other creative endeavors.

Don’t cry yet. Do the job first, mourn later. It will be easier for both of you this way. You’ll erase the best bumper you’ve ever drawn, but you’ll save the rest of the drawing you’ve made. Plus, you just proved you can draw an amazing bumper, so why can’t you draw it again? Your drawing is going to be stronger because of this.

Whnicetryo knew erasers could look so threatening? Pick it up. Erase the bumper. Draw a better one.

Here’s a gentle reminder, friends: It’s probably not THE best drawing or painting EVER made in the HISTORY of Art, right? If you put it next to the Mona Lisa, would she turn to look at it and be all, “OH, DAYUMN!” I didn’t think so.

Take heart. Your baby will return, maybe not specifically as a car bumper, but as a really amazing overall piece that you can be proud of!

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Illustration Station, Kidlit County, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor

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When I was in second grade, I remember reading The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats for the first time. The colors and shapes wove a spell over me. This was a world that I wanted to play in. Now, as a grown up, I get to live, play, and march through the snow in Brooklyn, where Keats set his story. This past month, I was privileged to receive the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor for Little Elliot, Big City. The little boy in me who grew up reading The Snow Day is quite proud. I hope to follow in Keats’ snowy footsteps, creating meaningful books for young readers.

Elliot and peter are friends! You can purchase them both from MerryMakers.

Elliot and Peter are friends! You can purchase them both from MerryMakers.

I am also humbled to be included amongst these other talented people:

Chris Haughton
EJK New Illustrator Award for Shh! We Have a Plan

Evan Turk
EJK New Illustrator Honor for Grandfather Gandhi

Chieri Uegaki
EJK New Writer Award for Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin

Adam Auerbach
EJK New Writer Honor for Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School

Alan Rabinowitz
EJK New Writer Honor for A Boy and a Jaguar

Misty Copeland
EJK New Writer Honor for Firebird

You can check out the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation’s website for more details.

 

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Illustration Station, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

Original Art Show now in Memphis, TN

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If you happen to be in Memphis between now and March 16, you can see original art from Little Elliot, Big City (and many other children’s books) on display at Memphis College of Art as part of the Original Art Show. The exhibit began at the Society Of Illustrators in New York City and is now traveling the country. Little Elliot, Big City received the Founder’s Award at the show last October. The opening reception at MCA is this Friday, February 20, 6 to 8PM. Click here for more information.

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Illustration Station, Kidlit County, Little Elliot's Neighborhood

Little Elliot, BIG FAMILY REVEAL!

I’m so excited to share the cover of Little Elliot, Big Family with you! I’m very proud of this book, and I can’t wait for you to read the whole thing!

LittleElliot.Jacket3-lores-797x1024When Mouse heads off to a family reunion, Little Elliot decides to go for a walk. As he explores each busy street, he sees families in all shapes and sizes. In a city of millions, Little Elliot feels very much alone–until he finds he has a family of his own!

You can read Elliot’s new story on October 6, 2015. I know, it’s such a long ways to wait! But if you want even more sneak peeks of the interior, head on over to these friends’ blogs:

Kidlit Frenzy 

Librarian in Cute Shoes

Read, Write, Reflect

Sharp Reads

Watch. Connect. Read.

 

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