Sharjah Children’s Book Festival 2016

As this year comes to a close, I’m grateful for many marvelous adventures and the beautiful, kind souls that shared my journey through 2016, and what a journey it was!

One thing that I will never forget is the generous, and warmest hospitality that Miss Quarrat and the Sharjah Children’s Book Festival, and host schools, extended to me in the United Arab Emirates in April. img_4915Here I am getting on my flight from JFK to Dubai. The Sharjah Book Festival flew me Business Class on Emirates. I hate long flights, but this flight wasn’t long enough!

img_4957My first driver and car upon arrival in Dubai. Little did I know that I would have a fleet of fancy cars and handsome drivers at my disposal every day!

img_5040Opening ceremonies with members of the royal family.

img_5061A place for interviews. They were so well-organized!

A small corner of the exhibition hall:img_5358

I visited schools in Dubai. Here I am at GEMS, Our Own English School for Girls, speaking to the high school students:

img_5542I had a very enthusiastic audience!

img_5171And here I am at the GEMS, Our Own English School for boys, presenting to the primary grades.

When I finished, the boys gave me this: img_5172Yes, I work for flowers! Always! THANK YOU, Boys!!!

Another day, I presented to Indian International School:img_5429The students were very enthusiastic readers, and wonderful listeners. img_5547At the end, their principal presented me with a lovely award, and a lovingly made collage, both of which I brought home, across two continents and an ocean. THANK YOU, Girls!!!

img_5431Here I am with the younger students. They wore a different uniform from their older schoolmates. I like the plaid! Many of them are now following me on Instagram, and it’s been fun to follow them too! Thank you for being so inspiring!!!

In between school visits, I spoke at the conference. Here I am being interviewed in Arabic!

img_5549I was holding my earphones and listening very intently to the simultaneous translation into English. No one else needed it! Then when I spoke, I could hear the Arabic translation. It was very cool!

I was taken to many special events, and treated like a beloved family member.

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img_5265In the Arabian Desert with my new friend, Alison McGee and Miss Camel. img_5274img_5290img_5313We rode the dunes in four-wheel drives, I sand-surfed on a snowboard, watched a whirling dervish mystic perform in the desert, and held this beautiful falcon. She was fairly heavy, I had to use both hands!

The Sharjah Library, set for a special dinner . . .

img_5364for children’s authors from around the world: img_5377

img_5110The HCA, Home for Children’s Authors, overlooking the Persian Gulf. IMG_5363.JPG

I really loved it here, where children’s authors are rock stars and providing good books is a national obsession.

img_5550THANK YOU, Miss Qurrat, and the Sharjah Book Festival, for inviting me to the MOST AMAZING children’s book festival in the world!!! I met so many extraordinary, inspiring people. I am so grateful. Please invite me back!!! P.S. If you look closely, you can see that Alison and I got badass henna tattoos. Arabic lessons are next!img_5238Did you know that you can tell where someone is from by the way they tie their scarf? Here I am distinctly tied as a native of . . . . (hit reply with your answer!).

Yumi Heo, Dearest Friend, Kindest Soul

By Charise Harper and Lenore Look

With heavy hearts we share the news that our dearest friend and beloved colleague,Yumi Heo, mother to Auden and Sara Jane, wife to Steven Dana, daughter and granddaughter, sister to Yun and Yunsoo, award-winning author and illustrator, whose picture books brought to colorful life Korean and Scottish folktales, as well as stories of contemporary Asian and Asian-American families, passed away on November 5, 2016, in White Plains, NY, after a courageous battle with cancer. She was 51.

Charise: I remember our first hello. I don’t always remember hellos, but ours was important. It was the first time I thought, “I’m going to like it here.” I was new to New York and eager to find like-minded creative friends. It wasn’t easy, I was illustrating a book and looking after two small children – free time was scarce. One day while walking in Rye, New York, something in a store window caught my eye. As I got closer, I realized the entire display was made up of books by Yumi Heo – one of my favorite illustrators. I’m not generally brave, but I summoned up the courage, marched into the store and asked, “Why do you have so many of Yumi Heo’s books in the window?” The man behind the counter said, “Yumi Heo is my wife.” We talked for a while, and I told him I made books too. Suddenly he picked up the phone. “I’m going to call Yumi and tell her you’re here.” Now I was worried, there was no way Yumi Heo was going to know who I was. Well, she did and after that first hello, we became friends. I am grateful for that day. Grateful that my family got to know Yumi and Steven and their children. We have shared many holidays and Thanksgivings together. We have supported each other’s creative adventures and shared dreams for the future. Yumi always inspired me. She was fearless in her art, incredibly creative, sweet, gentle, loyal, determined and funny, and always- all these things with a smile. My children adored her. I feel lucky to have known her. It’s not easy to say good-bye.

Lenore: Yumi illustrated three of my picture books, which garnered many starred reviews and awards, including two Charlotte Zolotow Honor Awards and ALA Notable Books. But more importantly, she became one of my dearest, sweetest friends. She was very good at friendship maintenance, and she’d often pick up the phone just to ask how I was doing. And up until a year ago, we were meeting every few months at the ice rink in Hackensack, NJ, where Sara Jane was training, to chat and plan new books together. We first met through my editor, Anne Schwartz, who paired us together for HENRY’S FIRST-MOON BIRTHDAY and UNCLE PETER’S AMAZING CHINESE WEDDING. After that, we did POLKA-DOT PENGUIN POTTERY, which is autobiographical – everything that happens in that book actually happened during the day I spent in her pottery studio, where she had invited me to “try something new” to help dispel my writer’s block. It worked! Our day together became our next book. Charise was there too – and appears as a store, “Charise’s Cookie Caper” – and her children became characters – Ivy and Luther (their real names). Yumi is herself in the work – and she really is like that – happy, fun, playing wonderful music, and busy, busy – doing a thousand things at once, helping everyone all the time. She also loved introducing her friends to each other – I think she loved seeing people she enjoyed, enjoy one another.

The gang, the day Yumi introduced me to Charise Harper, author and illustrator of the popular FASHION KITTY series, in 2007. img_0034L-R: Charise Harper, Yumi Heo, Sara Jane, Auden.

Born in the rural village of Kang Wang Do, Wangju, Korea, Yumi first came to the United States in 1989, as a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. There she met Steven Dana, a fellow student, who became her husband.

“As a child,” Steven said, “her mother had a rule for her.  Every family outing or picnic that the family went on, Yumi had to bring crayons and paper with her.”

Using collage, pencil and oil, Yumi’s work is characterized by its strong use of color and cut-outs, turning text into frantic activity that sings with a child’s sense of wonder and joie de vivre. Insects, bizarre little creatures, strangely shaped inanimate objects, random pencil marks, scribbles, patterns, and other-worldly flowers often float dream-like in the background of the main action, creating a narration of their own. Publishers Weekly has praised her “Matisse-like art” as a combination of the Cheshire cat, Lane Smith, Maira Kalman, “with a touch of Marc Chagall.” Her signature style was offbeat, playful and childlike, as though rendered by the child or animal character within the book, with “details that accentuate . . . emotions, and . . . traditions.”

“Yumi was one of the gentlest, most dedicated and creative people I’ve had the joy to work with,” says Anne Schwartz, at Schwartz and Wade Books. “Her art was quirky; it was playful; it was exciting; it was deeply original. Her vision was unlike anyone else’s, and working with her was inspiring for me. I have a hard time believing that she is gone; I will really miss her.”

Yumi illustrated SO SAY THE LITTLE MONKEYS, by Nancy Van Laan, SMILE, LILY, by Candace Fleming, and THE LONELY LIONESS AND THE OSTRICH CHICKS, by Verna Aardema, a NY Times Best Illustrated book, with Schwartz.

The happy, frenetic activity of her pages can be used to describe the pace at which she worked, producing 35 books over a 22-year career that began with the publication of THE RABBIT’S JUDGMENT, written by Suzanne Crowder Han in 1994, to her final book, SOMETIMES I AM BOMBALOO, written by Rachel Vail, released in May 2016, when Yumi had already devoted herself full-time, to fighting the relapse of her cancer. Additionally, she had also created public art for the Queens #7 NYC subway line, and short animations for Nick Jr. In 2005, she founded her pottery studio, Polka-dot Penguin Pottery in Rye, NY, which became a creative outlet for children throughout Westchester County and Connecticut.

Yumi’s own exuberant personality was reflected in her sunny, dining room studio, filled with books and quirky little stuffed animals that she had made by hand. It felt like a sacred place of wild invention and even wilder dreams, especially in the windowless little corner where she sat at her drafting table. This is the photo I took of her in her studio in 2008, when I saw it for the first time, and that’s where she’ll always be for me. img_0287

We are devastated by the loss of our beautiful and cherished friend. There is no tribute adequate enough for a life that brought as much kindness and joy to others as hers did. But we offer two haikus, Charise’s first, followed by mine:

 

white page perfect line

worn, wispy, soft, bold, fresh

eye to heart to soul

 

Yumi, is that you?

Tea wisps, frog shoes, tiger pipes

Page after page, love.

 

A private family service will be held in Korea.

Steven has set up a Yumi Heo Memorial Fund to help their family through this difficult time. Any amount is deeply appreciated. If you would like to make a donation, please go to: gofundme.com/krlds

 

 

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Debbie Alvarez, Human Being Extraordinaire

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My good friend, Debbie Alvarez, Mother to Declan, Wife to Doug, Sister to Rachel, Daughter and Granddaughter, Avocate of children’s authors and illustrators, Fierce Reader of books, Enlightened Keeper of Literature, Adventurous Traveller, Inspiring Leader, Brave Warrior, Human Being Extraordinaire, passed away this week.

I am heartbroken.

The above photo shows Debbie, just minutes after we first met, when she welcomed me to the Bradbury School library in Hong Kong, for Author’s Day in 2012.

The next year, she and her family joined me at Shaolin Temple in China for a week of Kung fu lessons.

Earlier this year, she invited me to stay with her while I was on book tour in Hong Kong.

We had many heart-to-heart talks, the kind you have with a BFF you grew up with. Here we are during our final dinner together, with another wonderful librarian friend that she introduced me to, Tanja Galetti, in the middle. (Photo will be added at a later time.)

We kept in touch through email and by following one another’s blogs and social media posts.

We said we would make plans to have adventures together in the U.S. after they moved back to Oregon.

I promised that I would come see her at Christmas, when I would be visiting my mom in Seattle.

We settled on December 26. In her last email to me, on 12/15/15, she wrote, “So excited about you coming…Many hugs, much love, Debbie.”

The next day, she posted an alarming update on her blog, Life’s Journey, Interrupted, in which she has documented her battle with cancer. For more than two years, she gave readers an unflinching look at what it’s like to fight for her life. The harder the blow, the more courageous she became. She faced  the storm and hollered so fiercely that it scared the bejesus out of her tumors. But she never became a full-time patient. She charged full-speed ahead as a mom, librarian, reading advocate, writer, adventurer, and a nurturer of enduring friendships. It was an uncommon bravery, the likes of which I have never seen. I believed in a miracle for her — that she would triumph. She had to. Her Son With the Most Tender Heart will have a mother who beat the odds to see him marry and to hold his children, just because she said so. But now, she said she  might have pneumonia.

Pneumonia. It’s not a blow, like chemotherapy. Or a feeding tube. Or even a new tumor. It is Death’s threshold itself. Anyone who’s had it knows. I’ve stared into the airless abyss myself, as a child with asthma. It fills your lungs with liquid, just like that.

The next thing I knew, she was gone.

But she was SO alive, that even today, she managed to post to her blog, The Styling Librarian, which I’ve re-blogged here.

I am sad beyond words. I will not be saying hello to her again, but I will be traveling to Portland after Christmas, to say goodbye.

To paraphrase Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, it is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good librarian. Debbie was both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now on Instagram!

Check out my un-bloogie globby — more pics, less text! Click on the photo icon in the right-hand column, it will take you to my Instagram account. My handle is lenore_look, in case the link doesn’t work.

Follow me on Instagram for another chance to win a signed copy of the newest Alvin Ho book (see below). Winners will be announced soon!

BRUSH OF THE GODS in Chinese!

IMG_1768I’m SO excited to see my book in its Chinese language version!

And in traditional characters to boot! Hooray!

The publisher, Global Kids Books, is based in Taiwan, where traditional, or “complex” characters are used. Simplified characters (fewer strokes and sometimes bearing no resemblance to the traditional characters) are used in Mainland China and Singapore.

When I learned my Chinese at Princeton, my professors used traditional characters exclusively. My current Chinese school in NYC’s Chinatown uses simplified. I favor traditional characters and still use it for all my assignments. It’s the only way I’ll be able to read the Chinese classics some day.

Anyway, here’s a look at some of the beautiful inside pages! IMG_1769IMG_1770IMG_1771If you’re learning Chinese, and would like to order a copy, go to the Global Kids Books website at  www.gkids.com.tw, or email them at gkids@cwgv.com.tw.

Enjoy!

 

Sidewalk Flowers

Dear Reader,

Last week I visited Stony Lane School and Memorial School in Paramus, NJ, and Pine Tree School in Monroe, NY. It was such great fun! A great big THANK YOU to the marvelous librarians Leslie Rochman, Marie Creste and Nicole Lee, who hosted me and organized my day and plugged my books at their respective schools. Author Day is a lot of work for the librarian! I appreciate all your hard work more than you know! Thank you!!!

I was on my way to more school visits and to speak at the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival this afternoon, when I missed my flight :(. So a librarian in Hong Kong, who worked very hard to organize my day for Thursday, is now scrambling to reschedule me and to fix Authorless Day on Thursday. I’m so sorry, Tanja!!! I feel terrible :(. And my apologies to your entire school :(…….

With a quiet, unexpected evening at home, I’d like to share with you a really wonderful new book that my friend, the Canadian poet JonArno Lawson, just published two days ago! I guarantee this book will make us all feel much better:IMG_0888Sidewalk Flowers is a wordless picture book that follows a little girl as she follows her distracted father through the city. She gathers flowers (weeds, really) that grow in the cracks of sidewalks and walls, while he talks on his cell phone and pays little attention to her.IMG_0889Once she has a full bouquet, she starts giving them away, one flower at a time, to the people and animals that come across her path — a friendly dog, a little dead bird, a sleeping man on a bench, and her own brothers and mother. Each encounter transforms both giver and receiver, and by the end, I felt transformed by my encounter with this book.

So I asked JonArno about it, and this is what he had to say:

What inspired you to write Sidewalk Flowers?
It was based on a walk I took with my daughter, Sophie, two days after my youngest son, JoJo, was born. My wife, Amy, was at home with Ashey (my older son, who was 4 at the time) and the baby, and I was in a rush to get home. I wasn’t really paying attention to anything – I was in a hurry, I was anxious, the city looked ugly to me, and as we rushed up Bathurst Street (in Toronto) on foot, while I looked about for a cab, Sophie was gathering little flowers out of the cement cracks in the sidewalk and the retaining walls along the hill. When I finally noticed what she was doing, she already had a small bouquet, and when we got home, she decorated Amy, Ashey (who was playing with snails in the garden), and JoJo (who was asleep in his stroller).
What is Sophie like? Or what was she like at that age?
Sophie is a very generous, loving and determined person. She was then too. She just turned 14!
How did she respond to the book?
She liked the idea of it as a story, and she liked the little mock-up I made of it originally, when I was shopping it around to publishers. All three kids were very encouraging when it got rejected multiple times – they all felt it had a good chance of getting picked up eventually. They were delighted when it finally got accepted, and they were in awe of what Sydney (Smith) did with it – so was (and am) I!  Sydney’s work took it to a whole other level.
Did you involve her in the writing process?
No, though really you could say she wrote the main melody of the story simply by living it! I gave it a definite shape, with important editorial contributions from Sheila Barry (at Groundwood Books). And then Sydney gave it its visual pacing and conjured and incorporated amazing unexpected details into it. Any way you look at it, it was a highly collaborative work. Amy, Ashey, and JoJo being our destination are an essential part of the story as well.
How do you write a wordless book?
I could never have planned it. I’m very word-oriented. I had to see it happen, as I saw it – which was lucky – and I never even attempted a version with words. I knew it had to be quiet, like it was in life, and that words would take away from it – they couldn’t add anything. Since doing Sidewalk Flowers I had another idea for a wordless book, but interestingly, again it was something I saw happen – it didn’t come to me in words. Sydney and I will be collaborating on that as well.
A poet is already sparse with words, how was it to make the jump into wordlessness altogether?
I’ve felt a bit vulnerable, on the publishing side of things (but not during the submission/rejection part of it). When it came out, I realized that my contribution was invisible – it was completely immersed in Sydney’s pictures.  I hadn’t realized how attached my ego was to the story until it came out – and then I felt a bit like Gollum, wanting to return with “my precious” story to a dark lake under a mountain.
Both you and the illustrator live in Toronto. Are those actual places in Toronto depicted in the book?
Sydney captured a lot of the actual walk in the first half of the book (he was good enough to walk it – he was brand new to the city at the time, having moved here from Halifax just before). So between Dupont and Bathurst Street, and Vaughan Rd. and St. Clair – Sydney’s captured a lot of the actual walk (though he’s expertly blended the best parts of different sections of the street).  There are some glimpses of Chinatown, where Sydney’s studio is as well. He described the book as his “love letter to Toronto” – and you can see that. So it isn’t strictly the walk – he’s using different bits of Toronto, especially in the second half of the book.
The scene of the dead bird with flowers on his chest made me cry. I thought of my father who had died recently, covered with flowers as he was lowered into the earth. It’s a very emotional book. Is there a scene that touches you particularly? IMG_0891
For me it’s the embankment scene, where she’s scrambled up next to the bus stop. This is the scene I remember best from the actual walk – Sophie went up that little embankment singing, taking her time.IMG_0892
In real life, that embankment is on the other side of the street, and a bit further south. Sydney’s put it right next to a small strip of stores closer to St. Clair, and in one of those stores I do all of my photocopying! When I brought the book in to show the owners they were delighted!
Will you do more wordless books?
For sure one more – I’m working on it right now. After that, I’m not sure.
Thank you, JonArno, for the wonderful gift of this book! And congratulations on starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and counting!
Now doesn’t that make you want to RUN out and get it???!!! It’s absolutely fabulous!!! You’ll love it!!!

 

 

Inspiration Uptown & Downtown

Dear Reader,

I had the most amazing day yesterday. I went to the New York Historical Society with a bunch of Princetonians to see the special exhibit on the history of Chinese Americans.IMG_0764It is the first major exhibit of Chinese American history at a mainstream museum, according to Princeton Professor Beth Lew-Williams, who had brought students from her Asian American history class for a look. Alumni, organized by the amazing Mo Chen ’80, joined them. IMG_0474I write about Chinese American families, so I knew I would find inspiration and details here for my work.

The exhibit opens with artifacts from the first American ship, Empress of China, that sailed to Canton in search of a new trading partner, in 1784, when our country was brand-new: IMG_0476Did you know that George Washington ordered his china from China?

Chinese began coming to the U.S. in the 1840s to join the gold rush in California, followed by work on building the transcontinental railroad. The Chinese were barred from becoming U.S. citizens, but in Thomas Nast’s cartoon in Harper’s Weekly, 1869, a Chinese family is included at the national thanksgiving table:IMG_0492Here are some Chinese pioneers from the bad old days:IMG_0499Here’s the dude who may have been the first to use “Chinese American” as an assertion of identity, in his newspaper published in New York in 1883, a year after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. He meant it as a challenge.IMG_0699His name was Wong Chin Foo (1847-1898). He spoke fluent English, had a sharp tongue, a sense of humor, and no fear of bullies. He challenged an anti-Chinese activist to duel to the death, using his choice of weapon: “chopsticks, Irish potatoes or Krupp Guns.”

Did you know that the U.S. passed a LOT of anti-Chinese laws? Here are the walls enumerating them:IMG_0508The centerpiece of the exhibit is a re-creation of the barracks at Angel Island, the immigration station where Chinese immigrants were detained and interrogated before entry into the U.S. or deportation, from 1910-1940:IMG_0718IMG_0744Detainees left many sad poems on the walls at Angel Island, here is one:IMG_0738I’ve been to Angel Island. While this exhibit conveys some of the scariness of the interrogation room, and the hardships endured, it conveys none of the discomfort of the surroundings. The exhibit feels cozy and womb-like, while the actual building was barren, filthy, drafty and very likely unheated. Actually, the re-created rooms are quite beautiful, like cabins at an expensive sleep-away camp, not the ugly holding pen that it was.

The exhibits ends with portraits of prominent Chinese American New Yorkers, among them, my friend-that-I’ve-never-met-except-in-cyberspace, the Wall Street Journal dude, Jeff Yang: IMG_0754Hey Jeff! Congrats to your son for being the star of the new TV series, Fresh Off the Boat!!!! What a hard-working and adorable kid!!! Woohoo!!!!

After that, we all got into this mega stretch limo:IMG_0759Whoa baby! When you’re an author, you don’t get a ride like this very often.

The lap of luxury:IMG_0762Off we went to our Chinese banquet in Chinatown.

Sadly, I don’t have any photos of our feast because I was too busy eating. One thing I learned at Princeton: When you eat with Tigers, SNARF as fast as you can, or starve. I kid you not.

The other thing I learned at Princeton: After you eat, take something for the road.

So after our banquet, we headed straight over to Fai Da, my favorite bakery: IMG_0765Marissa, Nick and George were just getting started. You should have seen all the goodies they got! Tigers need a lot of tiger food for the long, hungry ride back to campus.

Then over to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for one more treat:IMG_0766By then it was snowing hard, making our afternoon together look like a magical world inside a snow globe.

And it was.

Thank you, Mo, for organizing the trip, and thank you,Tigers, for being utterly inspiring! You guys ROCK!!!