Saturday, July 25, 2015

Superhero Story Time

It was Superhero Week at a local Cub Scout Day Camp and I was asked to read picture books for 45 minutes to entertain over 100 Cub Scouts and volunteers after lunchtime. I was excited for the opportunity, yet I was a little nervous.

I was nervous because I didn't have any "superhero story time" material.

Second, I know very little about superheroes. I didn't read comic books when I was younger and I didn't learn the names of many of the fictional characters until I had children of my own.

Lastly, I had always thought "Superhero Story Time" implied reading stories about the Marvel or DC Comics superhero characters. I was worried the boys would be disappointed when I didn't read books about Superman, Batman, or Spiderman.

It was going to be a challenge. But, I was determined to pick the perfect picture books without deviating too far from the superhero theme.

I knew of one book, Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom by John Rocco, that I thought could work. I love the book. It does not have traditional superheroes but it has four kids who think they get superpowers from their long hair. They perform some pretty awesome stunts and tricks until the day they each get a haircut.

I searched and searched for other books like Super Hair-o, but I came up empty with the books I requested from the library and with the books from my own collection. I couldn't find anything I really liked.

So, I reread Super Hair-o a few times. The four long-haired friends reminded me of the "The Fantastic Four". This must of popped into my head because of the new movie set to open in August 2015. I wondered if there were other recent or upcoming superhero movies that could help me make a connection to a picture book. Two movies got me thinking -- ANT MAN (2015) and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)!

I thought there must a cool book about ants I could read. I searched and found The Ant Bully by John Nickle. Then, I thought about GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY which reminded me of the Guardians of Childhood series by William Joyce.

Superhero Story Time - via www.ericvr.com
It wasn't hard to find the books once I had the idea to connect the books to the Superhero movies. The books I would read for Superhero Story Time would be  Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom by John Rocco, The Ant Bully by John Nickle, and The Man in the Moon by William Joyce.
I spent the next few weeks thinking about how to bring the books to life with props and audience participation. I bought wigs and made capes for Super Hair-O. I collected many props and made a few more for The Man in the Moon including a double-sided moon prop, and a cool propeller hat for The Ant Bully.


Everything was ready, I felt good about my plan for Superhero Story Time, but I was still a little nervous the day of the event. Would everything work out the way it was in my head?

The first book I read was Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom. I invited four boys to come up in front of the audience. I gave them red-white-and-blue superhero wigs to wear. When I read about the "fantastic four" kids in the book getting haircuts and losing their superpowers I pretended to cut the boys' wig-hair too. I stripped them of their super powers but they were still able to save the day with the capes I made out of t-shirts. (Click here for directions on how to make t-shirt capes). The boys did a great job acting out the story!

Fantastic Four T-shirt Capes
Homemade Fantastic Four Capes!
Next, I read The Man in the Moon. I knew this book was going to be a challenge because of its length. I told the audience that it could be the most epic story I have ever told if I had their help. Everyone would have a part in acting out the book as I read; some would have small parts, some would have bigger parts, some would have parts that show up only in the beginning and the end. My plan was to have everyone involved and to have lots of props to engage the whole crowd.

SuperHero Story Time via www.ericvr.com
The Guardians of the Galaxy inspired The Guardians of Childhood: The Man in the Moon.
SuperHero Story Time via www.ericvr.com
This SuperMan thinks he is a SuperReader.
SuperHero Story Time via www.ericvr.com
In the book, William Joyce tells us that The Guardians of Childhood are The Man in the Moon, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny, Mother Goose, and more. I asked, "Who wants to be the Sandman and hold my Special Emergency Dream Kit full of moon/dream sand?"
MiM from THE MAN IN THE MOON by William Joyce
Here is the little Man in the Moon, aka MiM. My daughter was a little reluctant to let me use him for the storytelling. I think he looks great!
THE MAN IN THE MOON - Superhero Story Time via www.ericvr.com
A huge thank you to the boys and adults who helped with the story! You did an awesome job bringing the story to life!
THE MAN IN THE MOON - Superhero Story Time via www.ericvr.com
In this photo, I was reading the dialogue of Pitch: the King of Nightmares. The boy in the green shirt and black cape played the part of Pitch. He did a great job looking mean!
THE MAN IN THE MOON - Superhero Story Time via www.ericvr.com
At the end of the book, the moon was bright and smiling. The children of Earth would no longer need to feel scared of the dark.
THE ANT BULLY - Superhero Story Time via www.ericvr.com
The last book I read was The Ant Bully. My wife helped me make my own propeller hat just like Lucas in the book. 
THE ANT BULLY - Superhero Story Time via www.ericvr.com
Many of the kids told me this book was there favorite book. Maybe it was because they were all talking about the ANT MAN movie that was just released, or maybe it was because I squirted them with water at the end of my presentation just like Lucas did to the ants in the book.
Whew! Superhero storytelling was a success! I don't know why I was so nervous. I didn't have any Superhero Story Time material, but I do now!

Thank you to The Boy Scouts of America for the opportunity to read at your day camp. It was a blast. The boys were very well-behaved and enthusiastic!

I would love to come read picture books at your school, library, or local event. My rates are very responsible. Check out my "school/storytelling visits" page for more information.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Why I Love the Mazza Museum Summer Conference

I love the Mazza Museum Summer Conference! It is an event that offers me opportunities to improve as a writer, fulfills my need to learn more about picture books and their creators, and provides time to be with people just like me!

The Mazza Museum is located on the campus of the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. It is the home to the one of the largest collections of original art from picture books in the world. Every summer, it hosts a conference for teachers, librarians, and people who love picture books. Throughout the week attendees are treated to keynote speeches from best children's book creators, pull-out presentations from passionate teachers, and plenty of time to socialize (evening dinners with the artists are so much fun!).

I attended the summer conference for the first time in 2011. My wife surprised me with registration for the conference for my birthday. It is probably the best birthday gift I have ever received. I have returned every summer and plan to return every year in the future.

The Mazza Museum is located within the Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion. There is an amazing gift shop, too!
Original picture book art covers the walls. This picture shows a fraction of the displayed art. There is always a variety of new pieces displayed each summer! This year there was art from modern graphic novels, award-winning picture books, and vintage children's books. Coming in Fall 2015 is a new exhibit dedicated to paper engineering and pop-up books!
Every year I find there is one piece of art that catches my eye each time I walk through museum. This year, it was this piece by Ed Emberley.
Four out of the five years I have attended the summer conference I have participated in the writing strand. This option is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for aspiring children's picture book writers. By enrolling in this option you meet with an experienced children's book author instead of attending the conference pull-out presentations. Therefore, you receive 7-8 hours of instruction about picture book writing and a critique opportunity for your own writing!!! I feel the writing strand is the hidden gem of the conference. I would pay the $225 to attend the conference, see the keynotes, and get autographs. I feel the writing strand is like getting a FREE bonus gift!

Two years ago, Michael J. Rosen was the author teaching the writing strand.  He provided activities and advice that helped me write and design my book, BABY BEARDS!. This year, Shutta Crum taught the writing strand and she gave me many ideas that greatly improved my latest picture book idea.
I was one of fourteen aspiring children's book writers in the class. We learned so much from Shutta! She really knows children's books! 
Not only do you learn about writing and developing picture books in the writing strand, but each author and illustrator gives you a glimpse into their process.  In this photo, Deborah Freedman shares the storyboard for her book, BLUE CHICKEN. The writing strand and the keynotes offer an unmeasurable amount of inspiration!
The keynote presentations have been simply amazing every year. Conference attendees always say the same thing, Monday's presentations were great. Tuesdays were great too. Can this week get any better?.  Guess what? It always does. By the end of the week your mind is blown by what you have seen, what you have heard, and how much you have learned.

Every presentation is unique. This year, David Hyde Costello wowed us with his improv illustrating and storytelling.
It is amazing to see this much talent in one week. (Pictured: Sherri Duskey Rinker, Rafael Lopez, Michelle Houts, Shutta Crum, Sophie Blackall, David Hyde Costello, Kevin Cordi, Steve Johnson, and Lou Fancher.) And this wasn't even the whole group!
Everyone who attends the conference is excited to get their picture books autographed. However, some are more excited than others (I am not going to name anyone in particular --- ok, ME!). I plan well in advance and come with boxes of books to get autographed. All of the books are gifts for my nieces, nephews, cousins, and my own children. Despite having boxes of books, I always end up making a few purchases at the Mazza Gift Shop, too!

I started off the week meeting Jeff Mack!
This wasn't the first time I met Mark Teague, but I recently found his first book, THE TROUBLE WITH THE JOHNSONS. I was excited to get it autographed.
A highlight of the week was meeting Sophie Blackall.
Every year, there is always one author/illustrator that I am not familiar with but walk away from the conference a huge fan of their work. This year, David Hyde Costello was that author/illustrator for me!
I love all of Adam Rex's picture books. I am so thankful to have spent time with him this week.
The last day of the conference brought us the amazing Aaron Becker!  
And Jonathan Bean! Wow! What a week!
There is no other place or event that I have encountered that makes me feel as welcome, understood, comfortable, and happy. Every person shares the same love and passion for picture books. All of us want to learn more, see more, and read more. The Mazza Museum Summer Conference recharges us, supplies us, and energizes us with the knowledge "to do what we do" which is teach, inspire, and guide children and families to embrace reading picture books. 

None of us want the week-long conference to come to an end. We always leave fulfilled, yet we are always looking forward to the next conference.

Sadly, when I return to Mazza there will be someone missing. It is hard to even imagine what it will be like without him.

Dr. Jerry Mallett, the founder of the Mazza Museum, passed away suddenly two days after this year's summer conference on July 19th. (Click here to read his obituary.)

When I saw the news in an email, I shouted, "NO!" I thought, I just saw him two days ago!

Before I left for home, Jerry and I were joking around like we had done all week. We acted as if we would see each other again very soon. I never thought the hug that he gave me was going to be the last one.

Dr. Jerry Mallett built a place that I want to visit more than any other place on Earth. His museum is filled with everything I love. His museum brings together people who inspire me and make me happy. I feel blessed to have known him. He provided wisdom, advice, encouragement, and experiences that I will carry with me as I continue to grow as a picture book advocate, a writer, and a person.
Thank you, Jerry! I will miss you!
He was a class act!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Three Author Birthdays in Three Days

My family and I had so much fun celebrating 3 author birthdays in 3 days on my Happy Birthday Author blog.

We celebrated Lesa Cline-Ransome on July 12. She is the author of The Light in the Darkness, Whales and Trails, Before and Now, and Quilt Counting. After reading, Quilt Counting we made our own pin cushions. Click here to read the blog post.

And yes, I sewed a pin cushion too!

We celebrated Ashley Bryan on July 13. He is the author and illustrator of Let it Shine, Beautiful Blackbird, and Ashley Bryan's Puppets.  We read Puppets and searched for treasures on a beach along Lake Erie. We turned our beach treasures (driftwood, shell, fishing gear, etc.) into puppets. Click here to read the blog post.


What do you think?
We celebrated Brian Selznick on July 14. He is the author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. We traveled to Michigan to visit Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum to see real automaton. Click here to read the blog post.

We loved this museum and highly recommend a visit.
You can follow Happy Birthday Author on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ , and Pinterest.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Thank you, Loganberry Books!

Author Alley at Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio was an amazing event. It was well-organized, well-attended, and well, Super-FUN!  I feel so blessed that I was invited to participate as one of 50 local authors! THANK YOU!

Baby Beards! for sale! Get your Baby Beards! book for your
upcoming baby shower and 1st birthday party! 
Baby Beards! for sale!
I had a table on the sidewalk in front of the store! The best part was that I sat right next to author, Marilyn Sadler. She has written over 40 books including It's Not Easy Being a Bunny and Ten Eggs in a Nest. Her latest book is Tony Baroni Loves Macaroni. It was lovely to spend the day with her.
Author Alley!! 
My daughter wanted to join me today. She enjoyed the free ice cream treats offered to the authors!
After my daughter left with Grandma, my youngest son stayed with me the rest of the day.
I didn't think the day could have gotten any better. But then, I found out that Loganberry Books will continue to carry Baby Beards! in their store!  Pick up an autographed copy if you are in Shaker Heights and support this amazing bookstore!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Author Alley at Loganberry Books!



On Saturday, July 11, 2015 from 12-4pm, I will be at Loganberry Books for Author Alley. Author Alley is part of the annual Larchmere Festival. Copies of BABY BEARDS! will be available!

More About the Festival:
Larchmere Boulevard is a home-grown Cleveland original, with mom-and-pop shops, unique retail, skilled local services, and a pretty cool bookstore. Every summer, we celebrate with a Festival to highlight our community and our main street. This year, the Festival will feature: ...
• Antiques Fair, featuring quality collectibles and antiques from local vendors
• Local Artists, from crafters to makers and good old-fashioned illustrators
• Author Alley, from national bestsellers to local self-published authors
• Entertainment, including live music, workshops, a chess tournament, spoken word, and children’s activities

The Larchmere Festival extends from Kemper to East 121st Street - 10 blocks of shopping and entertainment. Larchmere Boulevard is located just one block north of historic Shaker Square, on Cleveland’s east side, and is easily accessible by bike and public transit. All events free. Sponsored by The Larchmere Merchants Association. To find out more, including downloadable registration forms for vendors, visit Larchmere.com.

Click here for list of authors that will be featured in Author Alley:
http://loganberrybooks.com/e…/archives/author-alley-2015.htm

I hope to see you there! I am honored to be a part of this event!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

BABY BEARDS! now available on iTunes for iPad, iPodTouch, iPhone


Baby Beards! is now available for the low price of $2.99 on iTunes for iPad, iPhone, and iPodTouch.

Click here to download!!