Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ABC Pretzels

ABC Pretzels help young children learn the alphabet and are delicious to eat!
    When my children were small we lived in a 150 year old farmhouse in upstate New York.    The lack of insulation made the house difficult to keep warm, so on cold winter days cooking projects were always popular.  ABC pretzels were a favorite recipe.  My daughter and son loved to squish the flour and water between their fingers as they kneaded the dough.  Then they tore off chunks, rolled them into strips, and bent them into letters.  Even my three year old, with a little help, could form the M, A, T, T of his name.  After they were cooked he proudly ate them one at a time, saving the M for last. Now I make ABC pretzels with my grandchildren. (These pretzels resemble the soft Philadelphia style pretzels that you can eat with mustard.)  Here's the recipe:
1 ½ cups water
1 package dry yeast
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg beaten slightly with 1 tablespoon of water
coarse (Kosher) salt
   Dissolve yeast in the water.  Mix together flour, sugar and salt.  With a large spoon work flour mixture into yeast mixture in a large bowl.  When about 3 cups of flour have been worked in, begin to knead mixture on counter while working in the remaining flour.
    Divide the dough into 18-24 parts.  Shape dough into letters and place on greased cookie sheets.  “Paint” with egg-water mixture and sprinkle with salt.
    Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees F.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Projects: Polar Bears, Penguins and More

Two weeks ago I did an author visit at Ecole Bilingue, a bilingual French/English school in Berkeley, California.  (I do not speak French, so my program was during the English part of the day!)  I spoke to the first and second graders and was impressed by their enthusiasm and the preparation they had done for my visit.  As I approached the library, a huge bulletin board display was dedicated to my book A Platypus’ World, which the students had translated into French and the librarian had reproduced.  After my first program, the students presented me with my own copy of the book–my first to be translated into French! (I learned the French word for platypus: ornithorynque.)

The students had also read A Polar Bear's World, A Panda's World and A Penguin's World. Inside the library was a wonderful display of the children’s art projects–roly-poly clay polar bears; cardboard tube penguins, 3-D penguin pictures; salt paintings of polar bears, paper plate pandas, and more.  I really appreciate all the hard work done by the teachers and librarians to help the children be familiar with my books.  By involving the students BEFORE my visit, they not only learned about the animals in my books but were primed for my program and got that much more out of it.  The value of author day is not just in the one day I visit, but in the learning that goes on before and after.  I know the students will be checking my books out of the library for a long time to come and remembering the day that they met me when I came to their school.  I will certainly be remembering them and all their creative art projects!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

FOCAL Luncheon, Celebrating Me, Frida

Carol Raby and Amy Novesky and Frida puppet

On Saturday, January 28, 2012, book lovers of all kinds–librarians, teachers, students, parents, authors, illustrators, readers–gathered at the Border Grill in downtown Los Angeles, across the street from the Los Angeles Public Library, to celebrate the wonderful picture book, Me, Frida, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by David Diaz, winner of the 2011 FOCAL award.

As people arrived, a slide show prepared by Mara Alpert of the Children’s Literature Department flashed on the screen, reacquainting us with past winners, going back to 1980 when the first winner was Leo Politi for Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street.  On display at the front of the room was a striking black-and-white drawing of Frida Kahlo, created by David Diaz, available to the lucky winner of the opportunity drawing, enthusiastically promoted by Renny Day. David couldn’t attend the luncheon because of a scheduling conflict, but sent his best wishes.  Amy, who lives in San Francisco, had flown down for the day to accept the award.  I was lucky to sit with her at the head table.

Centerpiece made by art students of Ray Moszkowicz at Palms Middle School. Each showing San Francisco, the redwoods, an easel with one of Frida’s paintings, and a bird cage topped with a little pink bird and a purple ribbon inscribed with Frida’s words.
Caroline Gill welcomed us as the luncheon began and introduced Martin Gomez, City Librarian.  Then Barbara Metzenbaum conducted a brief business meeting.  We all then enjoyed the delicious Mexican style Border Grill food, perfectly suited to the occasion!  After the main course, Sandy Schuckett introduced the talented winners of the student essay contest.  Remarkably poised, the three students read their essays, telling us what they loved about the book and why they wanted to meet the author.

Frida puppet made by Carol Onofrio
Carol Raby then introduced the members of the award committee and showed a short video David Diaz’ visit to Paseo del Rey School in December.  Next, Carol Onofrio, who makes a puppet each year to go with the winning book, presented her puppet to Amy.  She had made a delightful Frida Kahlo in a flowing gold gown, red shawl, and jade necklace, just as described in the last scene of the book.

And, finally, Amy Novesky told us in her acceptance speech about herself and how she came to write Me, Frida.  She grew up in California near the beach and knew she wanted to be a writer from the age of nine.  She said she has always liked to tackle difficult subjects for her books and spent ten years working on Me, Frida.  She told how in the process of “turning a not quite story into a story” she came upon the image of the little bird as a theme to carry through the book.  She emphasized her life-long love of books and how much libraries helped shape her as a writer.

The day ended with autographing and a tour of the library for Amy.  Afterward, she wrote, “I really enjoyed taking a tour of the children’s wing of the library–what a gorgeous building–and seeing all of the FOCAL award-winning books and puppets.  To see Me, Frida among them really brought home the meaning of this award.”

Note:  FOCAL stands for Friends of Children and Libraries and is a support group of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Watching Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle in the Harbor, Bellingham, Washington
A number of my recent books, including A Bald Eagle’s World, have been illustrated with my own art.  I rely on photographs and personal observations of the animals as references for my drawings.  When possible, I like to observe animals in their natural habitats. I have been to Alaska and have seen bald eagles in the wild.  I have also seen bald eagles in Minnesota, Washington, in Yellowstone National Park, and elsewhere.  They are found in every state of the union except Hawaii!  I also find nature films and video helpful in my research.  While I was working on the eagle book, I kept my second computer screen open to a live webcam at an eagle nest on Catalina island.  It was amazing.  In real time, I could watch the young chicks toddling around the nest waiting for their parents to bring them food, and then suddenly the adult eagle would arrive, swooping in with a fish in its talons.   Several nests in California and elsewhere are fitted with 24 hour video cameras hooked up to a web feed.  It is nesting season again and both nests on Catalina already have eagles sitting on eggs.  Tune in and follow the action at the nest!  (Be sure to turn on your sound so you can hear the wind and the birds' vocalizations.)