Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kids can help send books to Haiti, for free.

We Give Books has an extraordinary program in place that allows even those with no means to donate in any other way, to help send books to kids who can not afford them. It is a way of letting kids take part in something that helps them feel like they are actually contributing to this, because they are.

Go to WeGiveBooks.org and each time someone reads a free online version of Hope for Haiti or other children's books, Pearson Foundation will give an actual copy of a book to kids in Haiti.

Go check it out and let your kids take part in building a better world!


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Review: YUMMY the last days of a Southside Shorty

the last days of a Southside Shorty
by G. Neri
art by Randy DuBurke


Powerfully drawing you deep into the emotional turmoil of the events surrounding the real life story of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, G. Neri is a master of HOOK and SUBSTANCE. To simply call this book a cautionary tale would be criminal. This book is like the streets. There is no master key to check your answers against. Like the streets, you draw your own conclusions. And, like the streets, the cautions are painted on the walls right in front of you.

Neri is less an author and more of a wizard, stirring his cauldron of words into a tonic that once drunk, sucks the you into that world completely. Even after closing the last page of the book, you remain deep in the realm of, in this case, south side Chicago in 1994. Yummy haunts you. Yummy's face appears when you look at your kids, playing in their safe, crime free neighborhood. Yummy calls to you from beyond the grave with not answers, but more questions.

A confident writer can pen a book that asks more questions than it answers, yet still satisfies to the core. And this is one of those books. There is no shortage of commentary on this event, but Neri only uses those various voices as fuel for the readers' own conclusions. And, in this day and age of nonstop bombardment of opinions coming from parents, teachers, media sources, politicians, everywhere.... it must be nice for a kid to pick up a book that truly honors their ability to draw conclusions using their own mental capacity. In short, Neri trusts the kids that will pick up his book. And that is an honorable trait in an author.

The use of this book's narrator is effective because you are not getting the answers from Yummy himself. You, like observers at the time, are on the outside peering in. The voices of all the neighborhood folks, the reporters, the cops, the gangsters, everybody, create a texture of noise that ebs and flows through the story.

Visually, the book is gorgeous. Even at first glance, the jacket will tell you that this is going to be a treat. Production on this book is nice and in the days of cutbacks from big publishers, Lee and Low Books has shown, once again, that they are willing to drop some extra coin to get a fine book into your hands.


The artistic storytelling of this book is very well paced, exciting, inviting, haunting, and heartbreaking. DuBurke portrays the hood in '94 with wonderful details. The use of long shadows that serve as both background for text and for directing flow, is affective. My favorite pieces are those with that dramatic shadowing. The light becomes a character in the book, one that alters how we view the characters, especially Yummy. Depending on the light, this boy can be a teddy bear hugging pup, or a cold blooded killa.


Graphic novels are hot. Will continue to be hot. But, what many of these books are lacking is what Hollywood has clearly abandoned...good storytelling, not gimmicks. Form is nothing without function. Style is meaningless without content. What makes a book great at heart is the same thing that makes a great movie, tv show, webisode, ballad, comic, and graphic novel. When it has a powerful story delivered skillfully so that the reader/viewer is affected by what they have consumed, then it does not matter what format the delivery system is. In this case, had Neri made this into his initially intended screenplay, it could have been amazing. But, I am very happy he ended up going the graphic novel route. Looks great. Format works well as a vehicle for this story. And, because there is a significant deficit of urban books for urban kids, particularly in graphic novels, I bet there will be quite the waiting list for this one at many libraries!

4 Stars. Two thumbs up. This book is sick! Go buy one for yourself and one for your local library!


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Haiti bound

I am flying to Haiti this month. I will be traveling with a friend from World Viision up into the rural areas NE of Port au Prince, as well as spending a few days in the city with my friend, Bryn Mooser, of Artists for Peace and Justice. I am very excited.
One of my primary purposes in this trip is to connect with kids, educators, and child service folks. I want to learn from them and listen to their stories so that when I am doing my school and library visits around the US this year, I will be able to convey the Haitians' own words to the kids and teachers here.

I will be working with Pearson Foundation in bringing this interaction to educators and students in the states. Click here for more info on Pearson Foundation.

My hope is to make connections so that for the anniversary of the earthquake, I can come back to Haiti and do live Skype classroom visits between classes in Haiti and classes in the states. (Please email me, teachers or administrators, if you are interested. I am looking for select classes to do this with.)

I am also very excited because some good friends have chipped in money with me to buy soccer equipment that I will be hauling down there. To join them, click here. It is not about being able to afford huge cash donations, but more about the act of joining hands together to share each others' burdens, celebrate each others' victories, and be united in the small things.

One love,


Friday, August 06, 2010

Ripple: time to bid

Here is the link for my piece in the Ripple Auction.
One sold, but this one:
... is still one available as of 9:30 pm.
If you would like the original, go check it out. All you have to do is send her an email expressing interest and then go donate $50 to a charity involved in the clean up, email her the proof of that, and I will mail the original art to you.


At Press with Hope for Haiti

Thanks to Susan Kochan, editor for this book, and Cecilia Yung, art director, we have a visual treat to share with you. Here are photos of the printing of the book. When I come to your school or library, I can share the entire process more specifically, but for now, take a look at a simple run through of the printing process.

This printing is done using a four color process. My original art is scanned on a big drum scanner that gets a very high resolution file of the art. Then the printer separates the file into the four colors, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. CMYK. (As opposed to the RGB, or Red, Green, Blue, that you find on your monitor. We can get into a delightful conversation about the difference between the two types of color during a workshop sometime. But for now, suffice to say that the printed page is usually done with the CMYK process.)

Then "plates" are created that will be the point of contact between the inks and the paper. They are fastened onto a roller where the paper will pass by and collect the four colors from each plate.

Here we have the Cyan plate:

and the Magenta plate:

and the Yellow plate:

and the Black plate:

Ink is distributed to the specific plate:

The paper is fed into the press, and the fun begins. These machines crank a lot of paper, very quickly. The rolls weigh more than my car:

Each page in the book has been run through each of the four color inks, until the combination of these inks create the full color image you see on the paper:

The covers go through a wrapping machine that wraps the printed cover over the hard surface underneath. The endpapers are also glued to the cover board:

The pages are folded, the bindings are stitched:

Some really cool stuff goes on in there... (maybe that is where they give it the coating of awesomeness, I am not sure.)

And as the copies begin flying from the end of the press, the spectacular art director of the book is there, in person, to ensure the color exactly matches that of the artwork. Bless her heart:

I have been on press a few times and it is a nerve wracking thing. You feel like you have to hurry up with your color correcting because the press is roaring away, and people are all standing around kind of quietly willing you to decide already, and bins are filling by the second with printed paper. My art director, Cecilia Yung, thankfully, is not the type to get intimidated. She kept at it until the skin tones were rich, the shadows full, and the whites sparkling. Here she is with the press supervisor, color correcting:

Cecilia really knows her stuff. She has overseen and directed some of the best picture books in print. Here she is employing a secret trick of the trade. She checks color upside down. That way the person trying to match colors is not distracted by the subject matter, or the familiarity with the piece that comes from months of working with the images. Also, you can notice mistakes or questionable elements very quickly upside down. (Or in the mirror.) Try it out sometime if you are wondering what to do to finish off your piece of art. You may notice you still have work to do if you take a peek upside down.

Once the art director gives her thumbs up, the press steams ahead until the books are printed:

I would love to give a big thank you to Putnam (Penguin) for the rush printing on this project. They made it possible for the book to come out much faster than most books ever do, and ensured its message and purpose would be effective in its timeliness. The book, in fact, is something of a miracle baby. Usually picture books take up to two years, pen to product. But this book will be complete, from first spark of idea to finished book, in less than nine months.

Thanks to Rubin Pfeffer, my admirable agent and friend. When I told him I was the fastest painter in the west, he told me I may just have to prove that someday. After we signed Hope for Haiti, he reminded me that this was that very time. Right around two months later, the entire book was painted, cover and all.

Thanks to Cecilia Yung for her eagle eye for color and the way she carefully birthed this book into existence, from written word, to final product. And, a special thanks to Susan Kochan, for her editing acumen, her out of the box thinking, and her trigger finger camera skills in documenting this part of the process of Hope for Haiti.

October, here we come.