Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Fun with Authors @ My Library

What do a cat wearing a party hat and a cheese doodle sporting a Samurai helmet have in common? They were both recently featured at author programs at my library -- true story!

First up was Origami Yoda author Tom Angleberger, who visited last Wednesday evening and entertained the crowd by doing  -- among a number of other things -- some live drawing of the characters from the first book in his wacky new Rocket and Groot series, Stranded on Planet Strip Mall. Rocket and Groot are two characters from Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy; Rocket is an adventuresome raccoon with energy to spare, while Groot is a tree, whose only words are "I am Groot." For the series, Tom added a fabulously quirky new character, a talking -- and opinionated -- tape dispenser named Veronica.

In their first book, Rocket, Groot and Veronica crash-land onto a planet composed entirely of strip malls, and they must battle hungry toilets, murderous robots, and a "Grandma" washing machine with chainsaw arms to survive. In its review, School Library Journal called the book "a slapstick romp," and that it is.

Speaking of a "slapstick romp," that's pretty much what Tom's presentation was like. He warmed up the crowd with a demonstration of his prowess in juggling Sharpies and then Tom talked about -- and drew -- the characters from his best-selling Origami Yoda series before launching into a lively presentation of his new book. Tom joked about the fact that the Marvel folks had chosen him to both write and illustrate the Rocket and Groot series, noting: "It turns out that the art was supposed to look like that of an insane raccoon, and I'm almost up to that."

The Killer Grandma Washing Machine

At one point, Tom got a bit of help from award-winning graphic novelist Gareth Hinds (a patron at my library!), who put a Samurai helmet on Tom's cheese doodle in homage to the illustrations Gareth did for author Pamela Turner's new book, "Samurai Rising." At another point, in a brilliant piece of improvisational drawing, Tom asked kids to name their favorite books (other than his!) and then created a drawing tying them all together.

Gareth Hinds adds a Samurai helmet to Tom's cheese doodle.

Throughout the evening, it seemed like Tom was a whirling dervish of humor and motion, and the crowd especially loved how he called every kid "Larry." The evening ended with Tom showing everyone how to create their own Origami Yoda finger puppet. Everyone got a little green rectangle and followed Tom, who used a giant piece of green paper and got a bit of folding bit of help from a young fan. All in all, it was a wonderfully fun evening for both kids and adults.

The next evening's author program was quite different, but no less fun. The featured author/illustrator was Ruth Chan, whose first picture book, Where's the Party?, has just been released. To celebrate the book and its theme, we decided to throw a party, complete with cake, party hats, noisemakers, and party favors. (Full disclosure: Macmillan, Ruth's publisher, provided funds for the cake and sent several packets of party hats, while we provided lemonade, party favors and the people-power required to figure out how to put together the party hats).

Note: All photos of Ruth's event were taken by Bruce Guthrie.

In her presentation, Ruth talked about how the close friendship between her beagle-like dog Feta and her cat Georgie gave her the idea for Where's the Party? 

Local debut author Minh Le and his boys meet Ruth.

In the book, Georgie the cat wants to have a party but can't find any willing guests. Fortunately, there's a happy surprise for Georgie at the end. Publishers Weekly noted that Ruth's ink-and-watercolor illustrations are "full of playful details to enjoy."

After a number of years in education, Ruth's new career as a picture book creator is off to a flying start. She's already got a second Georgie & Friends book ready to go, titled "Georgie's Best Bad Day. We got a sneak peek at the book, which will be published next spring.

The real Georgie and his best friend Feta the hound dog.
Ruth also has another book coming out this year for which she did the illustrations, Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World. Written by Colleen AF Venable, that book will be published in September, and Ruth already is signed on to do the illustrations for a second book by Colleen.

Once Ruth finished her presentation, everyone headed for cake and lemonade. We gave out the party favors, which were pencils and bracelets with a "reading is fun" theme, and then everyone got to pick a noisemaker as they left the library. It's safe to say that a good time was had by all!

The Library's Dave Burbank presents his sketch of Ruth.

END NOTES: Thanks to Seale Ballenger of Disney for working to set up Tom Angleberger's program, and for providing a review copy of Stranded on Planet Strip Mall.  Thanks also to Molly Brouillette of Macmillan for setting up Ruth Chan's program, and providing the cake, party hats, and a review copy of Where's the Party? Thanks, as always, to Kerri Poore of Politics & Prose for booking these wonderful programs at my library. And a rousing thanks to Bruce Guthrie for the great photos of Ruth's event.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bob Shea & Ursula Vernon: Two High Voltage Authors

Before we launch into a new season of author visits, I wanted to write a brief wrap-up of our two final winter programs with picture book creator Bob Shea and author/illustrator Ursula Vernon.

Yes, these two are very different in the kinds of books they publish. Yet they have one very important thing in common: they are consummate crowd pleasers.

Bob came in late February to talk about the new book in his popular Ballet Cat beginning reader series. Titled Dance! Dance! Underpants!, the book's silly story and comic  illustrations are just the kind of humor that beginning readers need. As expected, Bob's presentation was just as funny as his books. He began by reading one of his Dinosaur Vs. books -- Dinosaur Vs. the Potty -- then segued into the new Ballet Cat book before giving us a preview of his upcoming book.

Of course, Bob also did some drawing of both Dinosaur and Ballet Cat. He got us all drawing along with him as well, even the adults. Throughout the program, we did a lot of ROARing -- just like Dinosaur. Perhaps my favorite thing was the way that Bob talked all of us into regularly chanting: "Bob Shea is my favorite author!"

Bob clearly is both a fun guy and a nice guy. Recently I read about his presentation in Parma, Michigan, at the school of teacher/blogger Colby Sharp. It's a pretty amazing story: https://sharpread.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/bob-sheas-totally-secret-secret/

While we had a mostly younger crowd of kids (and their parents) for Bob, our program featuring Ursula Vernon drew a range of ages. It turns out that Ursula has a number of adult fans, who love her science fiction as well as the podcasts she does with her husband, such as Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap.

Ursula is obviously a seasoned presenter, and readily rolled with the combination kid-adult crowd. She got everyone involved in helping her decide the elements of a fairy tale that she then amazingly created right on the spot. Titled The Princess and the Mosquito, it was a wacky but comic tale -- vintage Vernon.

Of course, Ursula was actually at the library to talk about the second book in her Hamster Princess series, Of Mice and Magic. The series focuses on a "warrior princess" named Harriet who "prefers sword-fighting and fractions to sighing and fainting." Just like Vernon's best-selling Dragonbreath series, the Hamster Princess books are highly illustrated -- a type of book that we label as a "hybrid" in my library. Hybrid books are hugely popular with young readers; think Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, Big Nate, etc.

So, two great authors, two great programs. Now.... it's on to the spring season!