Category Archives: Books & Media

Spirit Animals


Spirit Animals at Art Club! I’ve been loving the advice and illustrations in Power Animals: How to Connect with Your Animal Spirit Guide by Steven Farmer, so naturally I brought that to the kids, masters at loving animals and nature, feeling connections everywhere. We discussed favorite animals, what we like about them, and how we can feel connected to a kind of animal for reasons we understand, and maybe reasons we aren’t aware of. Either way is a-okay.

20141110_162813I provided about twenty different books with animals images, including animal encyclopedias and guides, and… There Is a Bird On Your Head! by Mo Willems, just because I can. Didn’t want the kids to think they had to draw realistically. That is not my style. And so we ended up with some realistic animals, plus an unicorn pegasus, a cyclops cat, an angry sea elephant, and a saber tooth whale. Variety, people.

I drew a few samples from one of my favorite spirit animals: one realistic raccoon, a spiraly-funky raccoon, then a very colorful silly one. During class, I answered calls for help by sketching alongside–a manatee, sea grass, and a barn swallow. At times, watching someone draw an animal (on their own paper, mind) can be just what a young artist needs to make his own come out well.

A lot of spirit animals came out of that group of six lively young artists (click to enlarge):


















Filed under Artist/Author, Books & Media, Drawing, Painting & Mixed Media

Local Art: Jack Kerouac


Noticing art wherever we go is good for the soul. It’s too easy to overlook the carefully hand-drawn menu board, the geometric crosswalks in Chinatown, the chalk art on sidewalks—and the dinosaur head on the wall by my front door, drawn years ago by my daughter.

The more I notice it, the more I see. And it creates a pause for appreciation in my busy days. Even the dinosaur head. I will never paint over it.

A bit of art in an organic market caught my eye recently, and created a wave of Jack Kerouac gratitude: remembering the positive effect Dharma Bums had on me as a young teenager. It was a long, long time before I went anywhere without that paperback in my bag. At some point I realized that the character of Japhy Ryder was based on the writer Gary Snyder. A couple of years later, visiting my best friend at Reed in Oregon, I saw Synder’s senior thesis in the college library. It was surreal.

If I read Dharma Bums now, I’d probably have to face a heavy dose of sexism (I’m just guessing here, it was written in 1958), especially now that I know more about gender, objectification, and all that jazz.

But back then, my young heart was with those characters in the mountains, and I took those mountains into my heart. I learned a tiny bit about Buddhism. I was glad not to be a nudist. And I fell in love with the West.

I decided that I needed to hike more, live in a cabin, have fires on beaches, not learn too much about Jack Kerouac (lest reality ruin the story), and that someday I’ll name a dog after him.

I’m glad I stopped to notice this art, and remember.


(Taken at Mom’s Organic Market in Bryn Mawr, PA.)

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Filed under Books & Media, Photography, Public Art & Local Art

Ben Hatke: Wizards and Libraries Forever!


Usually we leave the library laden with treasures, grateful and excited. This time, we brought our treasures to the library, and not surprisingly—because libraries are magic—we left richer than we arrived. We got to know the fabulous Julia’s House for Lost Creatures and take one home, have our Zita books signed, and heard an awesome talk from artist and author Ben Hatke.

See? Magic.

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 Not only did the kids get his signature and their book personalized with their names, but each also got an unhurried sketch in their books—the bird from Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, One or Strong-Strong or Zita from the Zita series.





Oh, there’s more. Yes. There was a great talk about books and illustration, an art game (will have to try this one at home), a reading of Julia’s House for Lost Creatures and a reading from Ben’s upcoming book.

There was also the hilarious and illuminating What Happened to My Cheeseburger?!? Demonstration:

It was about gesture, body language, and how to explain feeling through a drawing, sparing the speech bubble for further explanations. This made an impression. My son, later that night:


And one for me, my absolute favorite (so far) from Ben’s InkTober series, The Widow of the Outlands. That’s right, I framed it.



Wizards Forever! And Artist-Authors! And Libraries! Yes, definitely. Magic all around.

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Filed under Artist/Author, Books & Media, Drawing, Inspiration & Imagination, Public Art & Local Art

More Dragons, Please

Sometimes—often—our kids are passionate about things we are uninterested in, perplexed or bored by. At times, listening to them closely can explain why they care so much, and give us enough fuel of interest to hold our attention through the monologues of information. If nothing else, we can love their love, be grateful they care a whole lot about something (not everyone does), and help nurture it in whatever way we can.


For instance, my ten-year-old daughter’s dragon love. It has been in her since toddlerhood, since before she could speak in sentences. It began with toys and board books, then drawings, sculptures, paperweights, Lego projects, and now in chapter books.

Yes, honey, I will buy you out-of-print dragon codices. Don’t worry.

And yes, you can make dragon rune graffiti in the garden. I understand.


And I love your love.


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Filed under Books & Media, Home Art, Homeschool, Inspiration & Imagination, Painting & Mixed Media

Local Art Event: Ben Hatke

Getting excited. Very, very excited…

Ben HatkePhilly locals: coming up at the Havertown Library on October 9th, a visit from the creator of Zita the Spacegirl and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures! You can hear the squeeing from there, ya?

Now it all makes sense why I haven’t snatched up Julia’s House for my kids yet—I was waiting for this. Only, ahem, without knowing it. We can buy the book, ask him to sign it (or you know, huddle at the back and be too shy, whatever), and then read it piled up in a comfy library chair (yes, the four of us will fit, trust me).


Last week I lost the event sheet from the library (even though we took three between my kids and I), and was on the verge of forgetting… But today I found myself standing in front of a stack of Julia’s House at Barnes and Noble…



And shortly afterward, saw an announcement at the Children’s Book World in Bryn Mawr, PA…


Thanks, Universe. Now… where’s my calendar and a big red marker?

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Graphic Novels For Kids With Fully Clothed Female Characters (Imagine That)


How about a list of children’s graphic novels that don’t have half-naked women, either victims or heroines, in skin-tight clothing with giant gazongas? And that feature realistic images of boys and men, without suggesting that having impossibly-large bulging muscles is the only way to be a hero? I think yes.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me. After discovering that they’ve taken good old Nancy Drew and put her in 9 to 12-year-old’s graphic novel format, which involves a modern makeover, uber-tight clothing, and a supermodel physique; has her female compatriot’s butt, hips, and bosom grow larger from page to page; and includes an entire section in one book where every female is in a tiny bikini—I was disheartened, to say the least. Poor Nancy. Poor kids.

(The links in this paragraph are NSFW.) Type in “graphic novel” on Amazon, but send the kids out of the room first. And manga? No, don’t even get me started on most manga. I mean, how short can a skirt get before it’s not even technically a skirt anymore? I think we call that a loin cloth, though I suspect loin cloths may be more modest. Pretty sure I don’t need any of my kids, whatever the gender, thinking teenage girls and women are meant to look like little girl dolls with big boobs. Add to this rant the recently revealed Spider Woman comic from Marvel, and my head is a raging bonfire. (But thanks, Oatmeal, I needed a laugh to damp down the fires!)

Big sigh. Deep breath.

Time to remind myself it’s not all like that—not all insistent, soulless, misleading messages to our girls about their skin-deep worth and to our boys about treating girls and women as objects. So, I’ll share a few books we love around here—books where art meets the written word and does a little dance without objectifying or degrading anybody.

Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi. Beautifully drawn, with engaging, flawed, and admirable female and male characters. Full of death, danger, and another world (via the basement, where all creepy worlds begin as far as I’m concerned), this is best for older kids. Also, brother and sister team? Perfect:

Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, by the talented Shannon Hale (of Princess Academy), Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale. These are both great graphic novels, with Calamity Jack being more gory than Rapunzel’s Revenge. The cover art is slicker and Rapunzel’s clothing tighter, than what’s inside *grumble.* (I should be used to that by now, I know.) The stories are fun and dramatic, great for the older kids. The books aren’t perfect: there are a couple of cleavage scenes and by the end of RR she’s got a steampunk torn-up dress thing going on. But still a great story.

Zita the Spacegirlby Ben Hatke Extraordinaire. I know, there’s supposed to be some title before Extraordinaire like Artist or Writer or Awesome Bookman, but I think his name is more than sufficient. Here’s a great audio interview with Ben. I’m willing to forgive the bare-bellied woman in the Zita books because I can’t be unbendingly unforgiving. Well, I could be, but that wouldn’t be healthy.

Warriors manga, by Erin Hunter. Sometimes it’s great to not even have humans in the book, because you sure won’t find cleavage on cats. At least I hope not. For Warriors fans, these are a fun bit of extra story that fills in gaps from the novels.


The graphic novels based on Avatar: The Last Airbender (the Nickelodeon TV series, not the movie). These are one book per episode, and follow the show faithfully. They are also putting out more graphic novels that occur after the series ended, which is manna for fans (and in our house, this means adults, too!). We’ve read The Promise and The Search, but not yet The Rift. (Ooh… what’s this one?) The books feature my kids’ most beloved characters, who also happen to be some of my favorite tv-based role models for my kids—you know, if they must have tv-based role models at all. The male and female main characters have physical, mental, and emotional complexity and a strength of character worth watching. (One section of books has our Lady of Water Bending in a sari-type outfit with her belly showing, as part of her Fire Nation disguise. I forgive the lapse in her usual head-to-toe attire, because the overall message of her character is excellent.)


Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell

Hildafolk, Luke Pearson


Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye, by Colleen AF Venable. Really funny books for animal lovers.

* Princeless, by Jeremy Whitley. Has a funny superhero-criticism bit where the African-American princess-heroine has to dress in an outfit she hates: a typical “Female Superhero” costume, think: Wonder Woman. This is while she waits for her real armor, that will actually allow her to have protection in a sword fight. We’ve only read the first so far, and it was good. The prince, though, has fallen from his tyrannical father’s good opinion, and it’s a pretty sorry state. I hope he gets back on his feet and finds his own way in the next book. I don’t appreciate female empowerment that puts down men and boys, so hopefully that’s not what’s happening.


* Cat’s Cradle, by Jo Rioux

* Bigfoot Boy, by J. Torres. It can be hard to find respectful, realistic images of boys and men in graphic novels (where their muscles aren’t busting out of their spandex as evidence of their only asset). Bigfoot boy pushes this boundary a little for me, because he turns into a giant hairy yeti to do good deeds. But I still like it, because I have a soft spot for sasquatches, and because I enjoy his character, his female neighbor and pal, and the story-line.


* Giants Beware, by Jorge Aguirre

* Studio Ghibli has won my heart for its fabulous storytelling, beautiful animation, and modestly dressed characters. Check out the graphic novel versions of the films The Secret World of Arietty, Ponyo, and My Neighbor Totoro. And for older kids: Howl’s Moving CastleCastle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke. (The age range listed for these four graphic novels is “5 and up,” but don’t believe it. These are an intense stories with death, gun violence, kidnapping, warfare and extreme creepiness.)MV5BMTAxNjk3OTYyODReQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDgyODY2OTY@._V1_SX214_AL_

* Jedi Academy, by Jeffrey Brown

* Hereville, by Larry Deutsh. “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl.” I love, love, love Mirka’s background. We need more heroes and heroines with a strict religious background—it educates readers, adds depth to the story, and is just plain interesting. 51eRS6ikX0L

Owly, by Andy Runton

The Secret Science Alliance, by Eleanor Davis. This crew is absolutely wonderful:


Sidekicks, by Dan Stantat

Summer Camp Science Mystery, by Lynda Beauregard


I’d love to hear suggestions for other graphic novels that portray both women and men in a respectful way. Drop me a comment if you’ve got one. 🙂

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Filed under Books & Media, Drawing, Inspiration & Imagination