Apr 21, 2017

Authors Allison & Wayne Marks on Art Across Generations

Art Imitating Life: The Inspiration Behind The Art Lesson: A Shavuot Story

By Allison & Wayne Marks

Ideas for our stories can pop up at any time. Sometimes the kernel of a manuscript springs from a single line in a library book or when doing chores around the house. Reminiscing with relatives can trigger memories that beg to be shared. All of these circumstances converged into one glorious by-George-I-think-we’ve-got-it moment. The result was our latest book, The Art Lesson: A Shavuot Story.

Allison: One day when spring cleaning, I came across a basket in the attic containing the earliest examples of our twins’ artwork. As four-year-olds, Claire and Elliott would sit for hours at the kitchen table using poetically named crayons (e.g., mango tango, purple mountain majesty, robin’s egg blue) to illustrate their own retellings of their favorite Shel Silverstein book, The Missing Piece. The titles of their books reflected their own life experiences: The Missing Piece Goes Fishing -- The Missing Piece’s First Day of School -- The Missing Piece Loses a Tooth. After this discovery in the attic, I knew our next book would be about a child’s early adventures in art.

Wayne: My father, Burton Marks, is an alumnus of the Cleveland Institute of Art. For years, he worked at Saalfield Publishing in Akron, Ohio, as a designer of board games and coloring books for different lines, including Peanuts and Star Trek. Later, Dad had a successful career as a children’s book author, writing about putting on magic shows, making kites, and planning Halloween parties. Growing up, I remember his art studio in the basement being filled with canvasses, squished tubes of oil paints, mosaic tiles, and multi-drawer cabinets crammed with a little bits of this and that used for his projects – much like Grandma Jacobs’ studio in our book.

After the Passover seder a few years ago, we recalled how Claire and Elliott took art lessons from my father. They would return home with still life paintings done in watercolors and floppy-headed sock puppets that starred in improvised plays which also featured GI Joe, Barbie, and an array of Beanie Babies. Like Shoshana, the granddaughter in The Art Lesson, our twins cherished this time with their grandparent, which became signature moments in their childhoods.

Allison: Reading and researching are important components in any writer’s life. One day in the Temple Israel Library, I was reading about the history of Shavuot and came across a reference to papercuts being displayed in the windows of Jewish homes during this holiday. I examined a pair of framed papercuts hanging on the synagogue walls and then pored over the examples in Amy Goldenberg’s book, Papercutting: Revising a Jewish Folk Art. An internet search uncovered even more beautiful examples of this delicate form of art. I thought a picture book would be a good way to introduce children to this Jewish tradition.

Wayne: It was by combining all these elements that we came up with the characters and storyline for The Art Lesson. Annie Wilkinson’s illustrations perfectly capture Shoshana’s creative process and the beautiful artwork that often results from simply working by trial and error with an unfamiliar medium.  

Allison: In the book Shoshana grows up to be an artist just like her grandmother. Similarly, eighteen years after taking their first art lesson in their grandfather’s studio, our twins graduated with BFA degrees -- Elliott in graphic design (Kent State University) and Claire in printmaking (Cleveland Institute of Art). They, too, have their own wonderfully messy art studios.

Wayne: We hope The Art Lesson: A Shavuot Story will encourage budding artists to try making their own papercuts, embrace the power of imagination, and, as Grandma Jacobs says, “make something beautiful.”

Illustrator's Pictures Offer Children A Way to Think About the Holocaust

Picture books can be tools with extraordinary impact, and not just for the youngest readers. Something about the interplay of words and pictures invites readers to look and understand ideas more deeply. This is particularly true of picture books about challenging themes, books like The Whispering Town.

Based on a true story, the book tells the story of young Anett and her parents in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Denmark. They are hiding a Jewish woman and her son, Carl, in their cellar until a fishing boat can take them across the sound to safety in neutral Sweden. With the help of the baker, the librarian, the farmer, and her neighbors, Anett keeps Carl and his mother safe even as Nazi soldiers search her street for hidden Jews. With the Nazis closing in, and worried about Carl’s safety, Anett thinks of a clever and unusual plan to get Carl and his mother safely to the harbor on a cloudy night without the moon to guide them.

A picture books depends on both its words and its images to be compelling. If you notice in the image below, the illustrator of The Whispering Town, Fabio Santomauro, drew the characters in a deliberate way—in shadow, so much so that the outlines of the characters are all that can be seen.

Santomauro shares the book with local students, explaining how an illustrator tells a story with images. In demonstrating his art—with 180 students in Bitonto in Torrione Angioino (Italy)—he helps students understand something else too, that the stories of the Holocaust are important to tell and hear with great care.

Add a copy of The Whispering Town to your library.

Apr 5, 2017

Sammy Spider Craft Celebrates Shapes This Passover!

Learning shapes is an important part of a child’s basic skill set, and we’ve got a new title out that helps the youngest readers acquire those skills while celebrating Passover at the same time!

Sammy Spider’sPassover Shapes, for age 1-4, includes colorful art of Sammy Spider observing a family getting ready for Passover. Curious Sammy sees lots of shapes, like the square of the matzah, as the Shapiro family prepares for Passover.

References like the matzah help children visualize shapes, and Sammy’s fun journey encourages them to also be curious! 

Adding on to that learning, we’ve created a fun craft project that will help develop a child’s fine motor and shape skills without them even realizing it--the best kind of learning!

Make Your Own Sammy Spider:

1. Grab a piece of paper to glue Sammy on. Draw lots of shapes to make it an interesting background! Can you draw the Star of David?

2. Find some colorful construction paper. Mix and match the colors if you want!

3. Cut out two circles from the construction paper: a small one for Sammy’s head, and a big one for his body.

4. Cut out eight thin rectangles. Make them long like a spider’s legs!

5. Cut out two very small circles for his eyes.

6. Glue it all on the paper! Legs first, then body, head and eyes last. Draw a smile on his face.

7. Enjoy having your own Sammy Spider!