Last Sigh of Summer

Last Sigh of Summer

Summer always seems to come and go faster than all other seasons. The past few summers we either moved down the block or to another state and back, so it’s been a fleeting, transitional season. But let me tell you… It feels so good to be home. All the boxes have been unpacked and we’re finally settling into a rhythm. So much change is behind us and so much is ahead.

How was your summer?

I’ve been playing the “what if” game a lot lately. Lying in bed, listening to baby snores in the next room and louder husband snores next to me, I’ve been thinking. I’ve been planning. There was a long pause here on Sturdy for Common Things, but now that the dust is settling you’re going to see me here more often. Quite a bit more often, at that. Like a gardner who let her garden go unkept for a season, I’ve started pruning and digging, and finding a place to grow again.

School started back up for my math teacher husband and my 1st born baby. As of last week, Lorelei is now in kindergarten. Kind-er-gar-ten! She runs with the big kids now and is a full-fledge elementary schooler. People always warn you when you have kids that this growing up thing happens fast. When they’re wee babes it seems like these milestones are light years away, but those clichés are spot on. Blink and you’re there. My Mira is now a little person and loves to make me laugh. I’ve shed a few tears with all these growing pains lately. I try not to in front of the kids, but sometimes I can’t help my heart. If Mira happens to witness one of these spells, she immediately says, “Mama? Mama!” and then makes a silly face and I laugh with wet cheeks and dry my eyes. You want so much for your kids not to see you upset.

This was and is my summer. This is me today. I’m at an intersection of possibilities; both exciting and terrifying.

What else?

Are you on Instagram? I cleaned out the cobwebs of my long-time private account and went public. I’m @lovesreading if you’d like to follow along on my photo journey. After I read this post by Joy the Baker, and as someone overwhelmingly intimidated by this social media platform and all its pristine photo ops, I felt more comfortable to take the plunge. So, here I am.

More Instagram inspiration comes from reading this Art from an American Backyard feature from National Geographic about an artist who photographs nature small bits of nature in a  20th century-esqe scientific documentation format and they’re stunning.

I haven’t slept much lately and when I’m up late at night, I do a bit of reading. Lately,  I read a lot of Brainpickings. That is some serious soul food. I get lost in articles for hours, which doesn’t necessarily help the insomnia, but provides just enough encouragement to lay my head down and dream. This article and this article have especially resonated with me lately. Oh, and not to forget this outstanding feature of The Artist’s Library by Laura Damon-Moore and Erinn Batykefer, founder’s of The Library as Incubator Project just this past month! A round of applause! Yippee, Laura & Erinn!

That’s all for now. More later.

Enjoy your last sigh of summer!

On repeat: “Dressed Up In The Light” by Taylor Holenbeck





Plans Have Changed

Sturdy for Common Things

Spring is synonymous with change. Some change is effortless. All of the sudden you look outside and green leaves cover the once bare trees, the world has transformed, it seems, overnight. But this spring has been unstable. Winter lingers like a guest overstaying a visit; fog and snow and changing winds. The sunlight is crystal clear and then disappears for days and days and days. Not to delve too much into seasonal symbolism, this spring has been reflective of weeks of soul-searching and transition and transformation. Now through the thick of it, plans have changed.

We’re moving back to LFK.

As I write this,  I’m in the room I’ve been staying in at my in-laws’ house in small town Ludington, Michigan. My computer is on a little folding table along with notes and books and a few treasures found on a walk the other day, (weathered drift wood, a skipping stone, a goldfinch feather). The window is cracked and a soft breeze rustles the papers now and then. The day is gold and green with morning sun. Will, my partner, is home after being gone for two months finishing up the school year teaching in Chattanooga. He’s playing with the kids outside. I can hear them whooping and laughing. Ever since we sold our house in Chattanooga in a matter of days in February, moving out early March, I’ve been taking care of the kids solo here in Ludington. But this weekend we’re finally together again.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I think we should put Lawrence back on the table,” he said a few weeks ago over the phone. “Think about it.”

We had already made our decision, an emotional decision, and Michigan was our destination. We had a plan laid out. But maybe he was right.

My first day working at the East Lansing Public Library was supposed to be yesterday. It was a fresh start filled with promise. Making that phone call to them several weeks ago was very difficult.  I’m still sad about it, but it’s comforting to know we made the right decision. We’re going back home.

As of this week, Will has a new teaching job there and we have a teeny house to rent that we’ll move into this summer. Nothing was lined up when we decided to move back, but it’s all coming together quickly. I will continue to be full-time mom and have a small seasonal project facilitating a nature-based program for kindergarteners in the fall. Maybe I will work more, maybe I won’t. It will depend on how things go. There will be more time for writing again while finding our rhythm.

Ludington will always be a home for us. We love Michigan. How lucky we are to have two places where we have wonderful friends and family. A friend joked the other day that we should probably invest in a yurt, since we move around so much. But I think this journey of loop-de-loops and curly-cues has led us to our haven.



Pages to Projects: Wild About Shapes

WIld About Shapes


Look closely and use your imagination… Shapes are everywhere! The newest Pages to Projects series post is up on Library as Incubator Project. Please take a moment to check it out: Pages to Projects: Wild About Shapes



Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors: Cece Bell

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Welcome to the start of Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors Blog Tour, a celebration of cartoon artists for Children’s Book Week! This year, Free Comic Book Day (May 2, 2015) will kick-off the longest-running literacy initiative for young people, Children’s Book Week (May 4-10, 2015). Diamond Comic Distributors and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund have combined forces with Every Child a Reader and the Children’s Book Council to call attention to all the ways reading comics has a positive impact on kids.

And what better way to kick-off this terrific blog tour than an interview with the 2015 NEWBERY HONOR WINNING author of El Deafo, Cece Bell?!

Jorge Agurrie and Rafael Rosado, authors of Dragons Beware!are interviewing some of the most respected and talented graphic novel artists of today starting with Cece Bell!  Bell’s recent graphic novel, El Deafo, is an autobiographical account of a girl who overcomes obstacles by imagining her hearing impairment as a superpower, transforming into her superhero alter ego, “El Deafo”. El Deafo quickly became a bestselling graphic novel and the first book ever to be awarded a Newbery Honor Medal, an award given to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This was a huge stake in reaffirming the important role comics have in the reading lives of children. Her books are funny, empowering, and so easy to love that it’s no wonder Cece Bell has a world of readers in the palm of her hands.

Let’s get to it!

 El Deafo

JORGE/RAFAEL: Congratulations on the Newbery, Cece.  We thought “El Deafo” was fantastic.  It was amazing how you visually represented hearing loss. And besides that, as kids who grew up in the late 70s and early 80s, we appreciated all the touches that brought us back to our childhoods.  You even had a Hostess Cherry Pie in there – that takes us waaay back!

CECE BELL: Thank you so much, Jorge and Rafael! I still can’t believe my book got a Newbery Honor. That was never on my list of things to accomplish—I’ve always been fixated on the Caldecott even though I’m clearly not the greatest illustrator in the world. But wow, it is cool! I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book, and that you got all the references to what sadly can only be called “Yesteryear.


QUESTION (FROM JORGE):  One of the themes in “El Deafo” is the idea of being the “other” and not wanting to stick out, which I could really identify with as a guy who grew up in the Midwest as the only Latino around. In my case, being an “other” turned me into an observer of other people, which probably led to me becoming a writer.  For you, did feeling different play a part in turning you into a writer/artist?

CECE BELL: I think it absolutely did. For one thing, I was constantly trying to make myself “different” in ways that I could control, since I couldn’t control the fact that I was/am deaf. I threw myself 110% into academics so that the other kids would think of me as the smartest kid in school instead of simply as “that deaf kid.” And when we were assigned projects in which creativity was encouraged—well, look out! I really pushed myself to come up with creative solutions to these projects, and I continue to push myself to do that in my book projects today. Like I said earlier, I know that I’m not the best illustrator in the world—I don’t have a natural ability for it—but I certainly do try to do the best work I can.

For another thing, and this is a bit weirder: I watched a LOT of TV in the days before closed-captioning. I couldn’t understand a word of what was said. But I would watch the images on the screen and then try to figure out what the story was, based on what I was seeing. I’d make up the story in my head—including what the characters were saying—if I couldn’t figure out the real story. I totally think that has helped me pair pictures and words fairly successfully in my books.


QUESTION (FROM RAFAEL): Why did you decide to anthropomorphize your characters in “El Deafo”?  My children love that aspect of the book, and of course we’ve seen it used successfully in books like “Maus,” and now yours.

CECE BELL: This is the most popular question I get from readers, and I don’t blame ‘em! Here’s the copy-and-paste version of my answer (and my apologies if you’ve read this version before):

I wanted to show what it felt like to be the only deaf kid in my elementary school. I needed a good visual metaphor, and rabbits, with their big ears and amazing hearing, were perfect for that. Essentially, I felt like the only rabbit whose big ears didn’t work—I had the ears for show, but little else. Also, drawing the cords of the hearing aid so that they went above my head into rabbit ears (as opposed to having them go into my actual ears) perfectly captures how conspicuous I felt as a kid.

RevisedChapter4PanelsQUESTION: In an interview with Geek Dad you said, “I’d love to do another [Graphic Novel], but gracious, the work.  I’m definitely considering it.” We (in particular Rafael) can attest to how labor intensive producing a graphic novel is, however I’m sure we’re not alone in wanting to see another one from you. So have you decided if there’s a graphic novel in your future?

Graphic Novels Get Awarded! Interview With Newbery Honoree Cece Bell – GeekDad

CECE BELL: All I can say is, I hope there is another one! There are a lot more childhood/middle school stories rattling around in my head as I consider a sequel to El Deafo. And I think about non-El Deafo graphic novel ideas all the time—nutty fictional ones, that is. But I have a bunch of actual projects with actual deadlines that I need to finish first!


QUESTION: Knowing they present different kinds of challenges, do you prefer making picture books or graphic novels?

CECE BELL: That’s a tough one. In some ways, you could see a picture book as a very short graphic novel. Both picture books and GNs have words and pictures that work together to tell a story. You could almost imagine that each page, or each spread, in a picture book could represent a panel in a GN. I guess I like the fact that a picture book feels more finite while you’re working on it—with approximately 32 pages to complete, you can see the light at the end of that tunnel. When you’re working on a GN, the tunnel is extraordinarily long and there’s a feeling of I’m-never-gonna-finish-this-puppy that haunts you as you plow your way through. BUT I think I’m a better storyteller when I use the GN format, and I found myself having quite a bit more fun while working on El Deafo than I have on my picture books. Whether that was because I was retelling stories that I knew so well, or because of the format, I’m not sure. It’s a toss-up, clearly.


QUESTION: What are you working on now?

CECE BELL: I have a picture book coming out in June from Clarion called I YAM A DONKEY. It’s complete yuk-yuk and is basically just an argument between a donkey and a yam about grammar. I just finished the art for a picture book for Candlewick called CHUCK & WOODCHUCK, yet another Cece Bell friendship story (I mean, how long can I milk that theme?). I’m currently working on a second RABBIT & ROBOT early reader book for Candlewick, and I’m supposed to be doing a fourth SOCK MONKEY book for them, as well (let me know if you’ve got any ideas for Sock Monkey, ha ha ho). And finally, I need to get started on the illustrations for a series of early reader books for Abrams (about a Venus flytrap detective) written by my husband, Tom Angleberger. Good times! Except for the fact that it feels like there’s no time for graphic novels….

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my book and for crafting such thoughtful questions. All the best to both of you. I can’t wait to see what you do next!


Join us in celebrating these incredible artists and youth literacy advocates throughout the month with Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors blog tour!

Find a comic book store in your neck of the woods participating in Free Comic Book Day, this Saturday, May 2, 2015!

Looking for a good read?

Here’s where you can find official Children’s Book Week festivities and ways to celebrate, including casting a vote in the Children’s Book Choice Awards!

Five Questions with Kids Comics Authors Blog Tour: 

Monday, April 27
Cece Bell interviewed at Sturdy for Common Things
Tuesday, April 28
Kazu Kibuishi interviewed at Geek Dad
Wednesday, April 29
Joey Weiser interviewed at The Brain Lair
Thursday, April 30
James Kochalka interviewed at Bumbles & Fairy Tales
Friday, May 1
Mariko Tamaki interviewed at A Book and a Latte
Saturday, May 2
Jorge Aguirre interviewed at The Windy Pages
Sunday, May 3
Luke Pearson interviewed at Mr. Schu Reads
Monday, May 4
Jeffrey Brown interviewed at For Books’ Sake
Tuesday, May 5
Cecil Castellucci interviewed at WinterHaven Books
Wednesday, May 6
Frank Cammuso interviewed at Reading with ABC
Thursday, May 7
Hope Larson interviewed at The Book Wars
Friday, May 8
Eric Orchard interviewed at Alice Marvels
Saturday, May 9
Kean Soo interviewed at Jenuine Cupcakes
Sunday, May 10
Dave Roman interviewed at Amy the Frog Queen
Monday, May 11
Gene Luen Yang interviewed at Finding Wonderland
Tuesday, May 12
Nathan Hale interviewed at Kid Lit Frenzy
Wednesday, May 13
John Allison interviewed at Supernatural Snark
Thursday, May 14
Maris Wicks interviewed at The Roarbots
Friday, May 15
Jenni and Matt Holm interviewed at The Busy Librarian
Saturday, May 16
Craig Thompson interviewed at The Book Rat
Sunday, May 17
Chris Schweizer interviewed at Panel Patter
Monday, May 18
Sara Varon interviewed at Sharp Read
Tuesday, May 19
David Rubin interviewed at Teen Lit Rocks
Wednesday, May 20
 Adventures in Cartooning interviewed at Word Spelunking
Thursday, May 21
Mike Maihack interviewed at Bookish
Friday, May 22
John Patrick Green interviewed at Haunted Orchid
Saturday, May 23
Rafael Rosado interviewed at Shae Has Left the Room
Sunday, May 24
Faith Erin Hicks interviewed at Good Books and Good Wine
Monday, May 25
Dan Santat interviewed at SLJ Fuse #8
Tuesday, May 26
Andy Runton interviewed at The Hiding Spot
Wednesday, May 27
Colleen AF Venable interviewed at Graphic Policy
Thursday, May 28
Jay Hosler interviewed at My Bookish Ways
Friday, May 29t
Eleanor Davis interviewed at Love is Not a Triangle
Saturday, May 30
Ben Hatke interviewed at YA Bibliophile

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DIY Black Light Booth Provocation

black light booth painting 5

Looking for a fun way for kids to explore a variety of senses playing with light and color? I made this Black Light Booth on a dime and it has been a favorite indoor activity in our home ever since. It’s portable and durable, so it is also a great feature in a classroom or library. I’ve had a lot of interest in how I made ours since posting about via Twitter, so here we go!

Black Light Booth Materials:

Making the booth takes probably 10 minutes max to assemble.

black light booth 3

Attach the black light to the top of the container. Attach the mirror to the back (bottom) of the container with duct tape. Boom. Done.

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I set our Black Light Booth on a chair, but a short, secure bookshelf or table will also do. Then, I draped a piece of black fabric over the both to block out light, turned on the black light, and that’s it. After that bit of construction is done, the possibilities to explore and excite the senses are endless! Here are a few kid-approved provocations we’ve explored…

black light booth pom poms 2


black light booth pom poms

White gloves

black light booth pipe cleaners 2

 Pipe cleaner construction

black light booth book

 Reading a glow-in-the-dark book. Here we are reading The Game in the Dark, by Herve Tullet.

black light booth highlighter

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black light booth highlighter 1

 Drawing and writing with highlighters.

black light booth molding dough

Sensory crafting with glow-in-the-dark foam modeling dough.

black light booth paper

black light booth paper 1

black light booth paper and highlighter

black light booth paper 2

black light booth paper highlighter glue

Experimenting with neon paper cutting, glue, and highlighters.

black light booth halloween

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 For Halloween, I bought glow-in-the-dark stickers and poster for some spooky holiday fun in the Black Light Booth.

black light booth painting

black light booth painting 1

black light booth painting 2

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Last but not least! Painting with neon paints.

Really, any materials that are neon, white, or glow-in-the-dark are fair game. Many of the materials I found I already owned or purchased at my local dollar store. Using the Black Light Booth has been a great way to dive into the science of florescence, light, and color. It’s an excellent prompt to spark creativity and inquiry and most of all, it’s a great way to light up playtime.