Hello, Snow by Timothy Bush
This is the final week of the Blogging for a Cure effort to raise public awareness of the Robert’s Snow snowflake auctions. As you know, I wrote a lot about the auctions in this post. The first auction begins November 19th, so get ready to go snow shopping!
Today it is my great pleasure to feature another one of these amazing snowflakes. When the list of participating illustrators was presented to children’s book bloggers a couple of months ago, I zapped back immediately with my request to host Timothy Bush’s snowflake. We are very, very big Timothy Bush fans around here. We quote James and the House of Aunt Prudence almost as often as we do Monty Python. ("When the bear arrived, of course, there were not enough macaroons to go around.")
Timothy is a gifted storyteller, and his picture book illustrations are enchanting. Each page offers a story in itself. Here’s a list of his books. In addition to illustrating his own stories, he has illustrated the work of such kid lit heavy hitters as Eve Bunting and Marilyn Singer.
Those Capital Mysteries he is illustrating are new to me—they look totally up my kids’ alley. I’ll have to check them out asap.
At the top of this post, what you see is Timothy’s Robert’s Snow snowflake. It’s called "Hello, Snow," and it makes me a bit nostalgic for the East Coast winters we so recently left behind.
Timothy was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about his snowflake, his work, and his taste in books and music.
What was your path to illustrating children’s books?
I always loved drawing as a kid, which I don’t think is unusual. Most kids draw when they’re little. They just give it up as they get older. I had this great teacher in fifth grade who gave me extra credit for my cartoon stories. I think she kept me drawing at that transitional age by providing me with an audience and a motivation (I really needed that extra credit). Telling stories by combining words and pictures is pretty much what I’m still doing.
How did James in the House of Aunt Prudence come about?
I had a meeting with an editor to show her some stories I was working on. She wasn’t much interested in the stories but liked a piece in my art portfolio of a very small boy sitting in a very large, fancy chair. She suggested that I try writing a story about him. JAMES was the result.
Who are your favorite children’s book authors and illustrators?
I think in this field, you get to have two sets of favorites: the old ones you loved as a kid and the new ones you love as a fan of the form and as a practitioner.
In the first category, pride of place goes to Bill Peet, the first author I can remember looking for by name. The easy, loose-elbowed energy of the drawing—an animator’s way of drawing, I later recognized—captivated me. I sent him a copy of my first book when it was published and of my most prized possessions is the letter I got back from him thanking and encouraging me. There were lots of other books and book creators, of course: the manic quality of PD Eastman’s Go Dog Go echoes pretty loudly in my action scenes and there’s no getting away from Dr. Seuss. But the Peet books—unslick as they are to contemporary eyes – were special to me in a way that nothing else was.
In the second group, well… where to begin? So, so many people working now are doing such beautiful work. The spectrum of styles is probably bigger right now than it’s ever been and the level of accomplishment within those styles is extraordinarily high.
Where do you work? What is your studio like?
I work at home, which is a tiny, tiny studio apartment in Manhattan. I’m on the third floor, on the back of the building, which means I get a view of the gardens between my building and the houses on the next street. If you’ve ever seen the movie Rear Window you can imagine the sort of what it looks like. For an urban setting, it’s very quiet and pretty. People can never believe it but New York City is a major stopover for migrating birds in the spring and fall. I get dozens of species coming through. Checking the trees and identifying what I find is always a nice little work break at those times of year.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what kind?
Everything. This work can get solitary, so I like to keep a wide variety of voices around. This week’s playlist has included Bollywood soundtracks, Handel operas, medieval chants, The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, some hardcore, arty hip-hop a friend gave me and an audio book of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography. And it’s only Tuesday.
What was the inspiration for your snowflake?
I thought it would be interesting to take the basic snowflake shape I was painting on and repeat it a bunch of times to make a snow scene. In the same way that one snowflake in winter isn’t all that exciting, my one little painting isn’t that big a deal. But a whole bunch of snowflakes at once is cause for celebration, whether they’re outside the window of my building or inside the window of my computer screen. So my piece is kind of an illustration of my feeling about the whole Robert’s Snow project.
The boy on your snowflake is alive with joy and wonder. I’ve seen that expression on my own kids’ faces during a snowfall—the upturned face, the utter delight. Were you a big fan of winter as a kid?
One of my earliest memories is a snowstorm in Chicago that buried the whole first floor of our house: we had to come and go through the second-story window. Big excitement, weird behavior, suspension of all the usual rules. What kid wouldn’t love that? New York City in a blizzard is also amazing. Everyone’s out, skiing down the avenues, but the snow muffles all the sound and the quiet of it is incredibly strange and lovely.
Disney has optioned Benjamin McFadden and the Robot Babysitter! Congrats. Anything you can tell us about that?
I got a call from the producer a while back. Her son had the book and it was a family favorite. She wanted to know if the rights were available and a conversation started. We signed the contract back in the early spring. The project is in active development, or at least it was until the writers’ strike began. I’m not involved in the day-to-day part of it at this point, but I did get to visit the studio when we were putting the deal together, which was a lot of fun. They really do run around in those little golf carts. There are some pretty amazing people involved and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.
You work mostly in watercolors. Watercolors often come across as soft and dreamy, but one of the things I love best about your work is how crisp, vibrant, and lively it is. Your characters have such personality and every page is crackling with energy. Can you tell us anything about how your unique style developed? Who were your influences? Where did you study?
I never really studied art. I just sort of made it up as I went along. I try to find something in every new project I can concentrate on and learn about: contrast or outline or perspective or whatever. Lately I’ve been trying to explore color in a more systematic way.
What are you working on now?
This week I’m finishing up a magazine illustration, then starting the final art for the latest title in the Capital Mysteries series by Ron Roy. I’m also squeezing in time here and there to bring along a new original picture book, the first I’ve written in ages. That’s my baby right now and I’m crazy excited about it.
Ooh, I can’t wait to hear more about that!
Many thanks to Timothy for granting me the interview, and to all the illustrators who have donated snowflakes to the Robert’s Snow auctions. Here’s a list of the entire week’s lineup of snowflake features:
Monday, November 12
Tuesday, November 13
Wednesday, November 14
Thursday, November 15
Friday, November 16
Saturday, November 17
Sunday, November 18
I’ve been doing all my wildfire-blogging over at Lilting House. Somehow I felt too tender about the Robert’s Snow post to pile a bunch of fire gloom on top of it.
Be sure to visit the other snowflake posts for some beautiful artwork and fun illustrator interviews. Here are links to yesterday and today’s posts:
Tuesday, October 23
Wednesday, October 24
I’m not the only member of the kidlitosphere to be affected by the fires…Sondra of Kane/Miller Books had to evacuate. Here’s her post about it. I hope she and all the other Kane/Miller folks are staying safe and don’t suffer any damages in the fires.
UPDATE: The Kane/Miller newsletter hit my in-box today, with this note about how the staff is weathering the firestorm:
As most of you know, Kane/Miller’s main office is located within San
Diego County. Luckily, our office has not been affected by the fires
While the employees of K/M
have been lucky enough to all have homes still standing, the areas in
which we reside are filled with smoke and ash and
the schools which
our children attend have closed for the week as have most businesses to
help conserve resources.
As our books are housed in New York and we have the availability to connect through the internet remotely, we ARE processing orders
although there may be delays in responding to your emails and phone calls. We truly appreciate your patience during this time.
I’m so glad to hear their homes are safe so far!
"There are things I think people have a need to know . . . I want them
to look around more — to pay attention to the world around them, to
take an extra moment to look at things, to think about things."
Ten and a half years ago, when our 21-month-old daughter was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Scott and I were told to be thankful it was ALL and not some other kind of cancer. We were thankful, strange as it was to feel glad about anything related to a cancer diagnosis. We knew that the prognosis was better for kids with ALL than with other types of cancer.
But we were a full week into treatment before we found out how very good the prognosis actually was. Jane had started the week with two complete blood exchanges, purging her body of all the cancerous white blood cells that had escaped her bone marrow and were coursing through her tiny veins. She had made it through the first terrible week of chemotherapy—the fevers, the vomiting, the countless needle sticks. One week down, years to go. The head of the hem/onc department came in to meet us, and he asked us, rather professorially, what our goal was with Jane’s treatment.
"Remission?" I asked. He smiled in obvious amusement.
"Yes, of course," he said, shrugging. "We will get her into remission, and very soon. But that is just the beginning. Our goal is to keep her in remission. Our goal is a cure."
Scott and I stared at him. I started to cry. A week earlier, during the nightmarish hour between leaving our pediatrician’s office and arriving, per his urgent instructions, at the children’s hospital emergency room, we had swung by our apartment to restock the diaper bag. On the way out the door, I had grabbed an old (but not that old) medical reference book we happened to have on the shelf. In the car I read aloud to Scott in horror. If the pediatrician was right, if the baby had leukemia, the best-case scenario, according to this tome, was a five-to-seven-year survival rate.
Until that moment when the Chief Oncologist said the word "cure," Scott and I had believed our best hope at the end of putting Jane through the torture of chemotherapy was that she would live to see her ninth birthday.
"I didn’t know," I croaked. "I didn’t know there was a cure for cancer."
"For this kind, there is," said the doctor.
We all know that ALL is but one of the many, many kinds of cancer. The treatment—the cure—doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for a lot of people, especially children. Ten years later, Jane is still in remission and spilling joy everywhere she goes. If you find joy on this blog, she is a large part of the reason why. I threw that old medical reference book in the trash long ago, because the hard work of doctors and researchers, and the courage of patients who came before my Jane, had rendered its somber pronouncements inaccurate.
At the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, researchers are working on more, and better, cures. This research is paid for by the Jimmy Fund, named after a 12-year-old cancer patient who made a radio appeal in 1948 that brought in some $200,000 in funding for research that first year. Jimmy, like Jane, survived his cancer. It’s possible that Jane survived because of breakthroughs in chemotherapy protocols developed by the doctors at Dana-Farber—I don’t have any idea who all the people were whose work saved my daughter’s life. I only know that I am thankful to the very marrow of my bones. And hers.
Children’s book illustrator Grace Lin wrote a picture book called Robert’s Snow during her husband’s fight against bone cancer. Robert Mercer was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma just months after he and Grace were married. Grace tells the story on the Robert’s Snow site:
Nine months later, Robert was declared cancer-free. "Robert’s Snow"
was accepted for publication. We felt that our good luck had finally
arrived. But, in March 2004, Robert’s cancer returned. We were
devastated. Our doctor told us that Robert’s best chance for long-term
survival was a breakthrough in cancer research.
So we decided to help the doctors the best we could. Because
"Robert’s Snow" had meant so much to us the first time, we decided to
use it as an inspiration for a fundraiser. We recruited children’s book
artists to paint wooden snowflakes and auctioned them off — the
proceeds going to cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The response was tremendous. "Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure" snowballed greater than we ever dreamed.
I am grieved to say that Robert Mercer passed away this summer. But Robert’s Snow lives on. To date, the Robert’s Snow snowflake auctions have raised over $200,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This year’s auctions will begin in November, and you can bid on a stunning array of snowflakes illustrated by some of the most talented artists in children’s books.
Starting last week, bloggers all over the kidlitosphere joined in an effort to spread awareness of the upcoming Robert’s Snow auctions. Encouraged by Jules and Eisha of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, who dreamed up the "Blogging for a Cure" event, dozens of bloggers are featuring snowflakes by some of the participating illustrators. There are many, many more snowflakes being auctioned in addition to the ones you will see in these posts. I encourage you to go explore the auction site and feast your eyes on all these beautiful pieces of art.
Here is one of them. What an honor it is to be able to feature David Macaulay’s snowflake here at Bonny Glen. I mean, David Macaulay! Caldecott winner! Author of The Way Things Work! The man who taught Jane what a laser is, and how parking meters work, and what is the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion!
David Macaulay painted a snowflake for the Robert’s Snow auction. Here it is, front and back, reproduced here with permission:
Don’t you love that sweet, pensive face?
Ten years ago, when Jane was diagnosed, David Macauley’s books already had pride of place on our living room shelf. I first saw The Way Things Work in the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school. I bought a copy with my employee discount. I hoped to have children one day, lots of them, and I knew they’d want to know how stuff worked.
Now here it is 2007 and I’ve got those children, a lot of them!, and they are indeed full of ‘satiable curtiosities. David Macauley’s books have helped show them the world. Sit down with one of his black-and-white "Building Books" masterpieces, and you’re likely to spend the whole rest of the day immersed in the details of another corner of the world. Here are some of the books he wrote and illustrated, a homeschooler’s dream library:
City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction
He also wrote the Caldecott winner Black and White, a stunner of a picture book, as well as the charming Angelo.
There will be three rounds of snowflake auctions, beginning November 19th. If you’d like to see David Macauley’s snowflake hanging on your Christmas tree or in your winter window, it will be sold in the second auction, which starts on November 26th. (Trivia time: one of the other snowflakes in that auction was made by the illustrator of one of my books. Do you know who?)
Many thanks to Mr. Macaulay and all the illustrators who donated these gorgeous works of art for the Robert’s Snow auction, to Grace Lin for founding the event (view her own snowflake here), and to Jules and Eisha for organizing the Blogging for a Cure effort. And many, many thanks to the folks of the Dana-Farber Institute for continuing to work toward cures for other people like Jane.
Here are the rest of this week’s Blogging for a Cure snowflake features (thank you, Tricia and Jen, for the list!):
Monday, October 22
Tuesday, October 23
Wednesday, October 24
Thursday, October 25
Friday, October 26
Saturday, October 27
Sunday, October 28
Blogging for a Cure page at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
David Macauley page at Houghton Mifflin.
Robert’s Snow main page.
Main auction page.
David Macauley’s snowflake auction page.
If you read children’s literature blogs, you’ve heard all about Robert’s Snow and the big blog event surrounding it. But in case you’ve missed the news, here’s the lowdown, courtesy of the indefatigable Eisha and Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
is Grace [Lin]’s book, published in 2004, about a mouse not allowed in the
snow. The story was inspired by Robert’s battle with Ewing’s sarcoma.
After the book was published, Grace gathered artists from all over the
children’s book illustrating community to create special snowflakes to
be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting sarcoma research at
Dana-Farber. These snowflake auctions became known as the event
This year, more than 200 well-known children’s book illustrators
from around the world have been given a five-inch wooden snowflake to
decorate at will. Like actual snowflakes, each design is unique. The
2007 online auctions for bidding on these hand-painted snowflakes will
take place in three separate auctions, open to everyone, from November
19 to 23, November 26-30, and December 3-7. You can read here for more information.
But starting today — and lasting for over one month until the day before the auctions — over 65 bloggers will be highlighting some of the snowflakes and the illustrators who created them….
I am delighted to say I’m one of the bloggers who’ll be featuring snowflakes. I am even more delighted to say that the illustrators whose work I’ll be featuring are two of my favorite illustrators ever: David Macauley, author of—oh, you don’t need me to tell you this, but I will anyway, because it’s so exciting—The Way Things Work, City, Cathedral, Castle, Pyramid, and so many other amazing books; and the enchanting Timothy Bush, whose picture book James in the House of Aunt Prudence makes my family’s best-of-the-best list.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. My turn doesn’t begin until next week. For now, treat yourself to the first round of snowflake interviews at the following blogs:
Grace Lin, featured by Becky Bilby at In the Pages . . .
Randy Cecil, featured by Liz Dubois at ChatRabbit
Michelle Chang, featured by The Longstockings
Kevin Hawkes, featured by Cynthia Lord at cynthialord’s Journal;
Barbara Lehman, featured by David Elzey at the excelsior file
And keep checking in at SevenImp all week for a new round of snowflake features each day. Or visit Jen Robinson’s Book Page for a sidebar listing of the entire week’s Robert’s Snow schedule. This is going to be a very exciting event!