Let it Snow… Again!

In eight hours, I need to be on a train to New York for the NYS English Council Conference.  Am I packed?  Not quite.  But I really, really wanted to share what my students finished today.  When I signed up to participate in Blogging for a Cure to promote the Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure fund-raiser for the  Dana Farber Cancer Institute, I enlisted my 7th graders’ help interviewing illustrators and writing features about them.  We interviewed:

I also wrote a grant so we could purchase wooden snowflakes and supplies to make our own ornaments to sell to raise money for the effort.  Look what my students did!

This is our snowflake board, where the ornaments are on sale for $5 each.  In a few weeks, we’ll be sending our check to Dana Farber for cancer research, to go along with the thousands raised in the Robert’s Snow Auction.

One of my students brought in origami paper and made tiny butterflies and cranes to decorate her snowflake.

I love the creative ideas they came up with.  Just like real snowflakes, no two were alike…

I’m convinced that the artist of the snowflake below is going to publish a graphic novel some day…

Another work in progress…

The kids worked hard today and were SO excited to join the ranks of artists working for a cure for cancer.  We’ll post an update when we have a final amount for our donation!

Robert’s Snow…Meet Illustrator Amy Young!

Today, as part of Blogging for a Cure,  we’re featuring illustrator Amy Young and the snowflake she created for Robert’s Snow — a fantastic fund-raiser for cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Blogger’s Note:  I’m a children’s author and a middle school English teacher, so my students are collaborating on our series of illustrator profiles! Today’s feature is courtesy of the Global Citizens in 3rd period English class!

Amy L. Young grew up in Watertown, MA. She started drawing at the age of three, and as she grew up, she dreamed of being an artist.  By going to the Cleveland Institute of Art for two years and then Yale, she accomplished this goal. Later on, her first book, Belinda the Ballerina, was published in 2003.  Like Belinda, Amy Young took dance lessons at the age of seven. She also wrote and illustrated two other books — Belinda in Paris and Belinda and the Glass Slipper.  Her three books do not just attract young, enthusiastic dancers. They also attract adults and other children because of her wit and comedy.  Amy L. Young is a very talented writer and illustrator.

We had a chance to interview Amy about her snowflake and her work.

Globals:  First of all, we were enchanted by your snowflake. What was the inspiration for that design?  What made you think of Emmalina the Mud Fairy and the sunflower that you chose?

Amy: I’m glad you like my snowflake! Emmalina is a character from THE MUD FAIRY, a book I have written which will be published by BloomsburyUSA at some point (no publication date yet).  Emmalina is sort of a tom-boy fairy, who would rather stomp in mud puddles and play with frogs than be all delicate and dainty. But she does still take an occasional nap on a flower, as you see on the snowflake. The idea of  the sunflower just came to me as I was thinking about it. That’s often how I get my best ideas; it’s kind of like magic.

Globals: Why are you participating in Robert’s Snow?   Do you have family/friends who have been affected by cancer?

Amy:  It is a great opportunity to do what I do best, and have it benefit a good cause. I really like that the entire illustration community has risen to the occasion to contribute. It feels good to be a part of a such a  large, generous community. And yes, I have lost loved ones to cancer: two aunts, and, most recently, a very dear friend. It is a cruel disease, and I like to think I might have some small part in fighting it.

Globals: Why do you like illustrating so much, and what inspired you to become an illustrator and writer?

Amy: I remember being in nursery school when I was three years old, gluing one piece of paper to another, and saying, “I am going to be an artist when I grow up.” I have no idea why I have always felt such a strong connection to making images, but it seems to satisfy a need. I have always liked writing, and making picture books seemed the 
perfect way to combine those two things.

Globals: When you were young, what else did you want to be when you grew up?

Amy: Actually, nothing!

Globals: We’re looking forward to reading about Belinda. What made you want to write about a ballerina?

Amy: The first Belinda story came to me in a flash — it was as though I didn’t make it up myself. It was just there. Looking back, I think I liked the idea of a ballerina with big feet. It was a funny image. But I also liked that she was incredibly graceful in spite of, or perhaps because of, her feet. It was a change to gently poke fun at 
people’s prejudices and assumptions.

Globals: Are the ballerina books autobiographical at all? Did you write about Belinda having big feet because you do?

Amy: In most ways I am not like Belinda: I have small, wide feet, like a duck; I am not as shy as Belinda is, and I probably have a bit more of a temper;  I had never taken a ballet class before doing the first book. In spite of those differences, there is one major trait that Belinda and I have in common: I love doing art as much as she loves dancing. Interestingly, Belinda’s love of dancing has rubbed off on me — I now take ballet.

Globals: What’s your favorite book that you wrote or illustrated?

Amy: I don’t have a favorite, but right now I am very excited about the next Belinda book, which will come out on Valentine’s Day. It is called Belinda Begins Ballet, and tells the story of how Belinda started dancing when she was a girl.

Globals: We read on your website that you’ve had a wide variety of jobs and even went to law school before your became an illustrator. Why did you decide to study law, and what made you leave it?

Amy: Well, I panicked. I didn’t think that I would be able to make a living doing art, so I looked for something else. My father is a lawyer, and he loves his job, so I thought “I’ll try that!” I was a lawyer for seven years. There was a lot that I liked about being a lawyer, but I really missed doing art — just the way Belinda missed dancing. (Ah, there’s the autobiographical part!)

Globals: We also noted that you didn’t care for waitressing. How come?

Amy: I waitressed in a pizza place in a big city. When things got busy we were frantic trying to get everyone served, and some of the customers treated us as if we were barely human. Just not my cup of tea.

Globals: Now the rapid-fire questions…things that kids (and grownups who are just big kids) need to know!  What’s your favorite book ever?

Amy: I really don’t have one favorite book. I like so many books, and different books suit different moods.

Globals: What was your greatest accomplishment in life?

Amy: Wow. That’s a toughie. I think it is sort of amazing that I managed to get through Harvard Law School (I worked very hard!), but in a way I would say getting my first book published was a bigger accomplishment, because it was closer to my heart.

Globals: Do you like sushi?

Amy: Yes!

Globals: What’s your most embarrassing moment (that you’re willing to share)?

Amy: That would be eleventh grade math class. I was the only one who got the answer to one of the homework problems, and I was asked to go up in front of the whole class and explain how I did it. So I did, but it turns out my method was all wrong and really pretty stupid. There was this terrible awkward silence, and a few people tittered, and I really did wish I could sink into the floor and just disappear. The funny thing is that now it would take a whole lot more than that to embarrass me. I like to laugh at myself, and it makes life a lot more fun.

Globals: Have you ever ridden a horse?

Amy: Yes, but I would rather pat one and feed it and brush it and tell it how lovely it is, instead of riding it. 

Globals: What’s your biggest fear?

Amy: That I will be in the middle of a big presentation and my slides or PowerPoint will fail me. It’s not that I’d be embarrassed so much as I wouldn’t know what to do, because showing people images of what I do is so much a part of how I present material. I guess I would manage, but it would not be good.

Globals: Your favorite dessert?

Amy: Anything with chocolate!

Globals: Thanks, Amy, for taking the time to visit with us, and thanks for giving of your time and talents for the Robert’s Snow project!

Amy: Thank YOU! One of the things I love about what I do is making contact with people like you!

Here is your chance to win a signed copy of one of Amy’s books from the Belinda series.  All you have to do is leave a comment on one of the snowflakes from Auction #3, and we’ll enter you in a drawing for that signed book. You can also visit Amy Young’s website to learn more about her work.

Robert’s Snow…Meet Illustrator Shawna Tenney!

Today’s illustrator feature for the Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure Fundraiser is Shawna Tenney, an artist with a gift for whimsy and, as you’ll see in her snowflake, a child’s playfulness.

Blogger’s Note:  I’m a children’s author and a middle school English teacher, so my students are collaborating on our series of illustrator profiles. Today’s feature is courtesy of the Global Citizens in 3rd period English class.

Shawna Tenney has illustrated many books, such as Allie’s Bike, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, A Very Strange Place, and In the Sun.


She first wanted to be a ballerina, but finding out it wasn’t made for her, she discovered writing and illustrating.  She now lives in Utah with her husband, Warren, and two daughters, Cassidy and Madeline, and don’t forget Bongo the Cat!


We interviewed Shawna Tenney.  Here are our questions and her answers:

First of all, please tell us about your snowflake. Where did the idea for the frog fairy come from?

Well, sometimes I don’t really know where my ideas come from.  I was looking at my snowflake, and all I could see was a big beehive hairdo and wings.  A fat frog lady hopped in there randomly.

Why did you join the Robert’s Snow fundraiser?

I found out about it on a friend’s blog, and really wanted to participate, mostly because my mom is a breast cancer survivor.  I was very excited to participate in a fund raiser for cancer research in which I could use my talents.   I dedicated my snowflake to my mom and my good friend Amber, an 11 year old who has leukemia.

Why do you like being an illustrator?

Wow, what is there not to like.  I can stay at home with my kids while I work and make my own schedule (although at times this can be a challenge).  I get paid for doing something I love to do.

How much practice does it take to be an illustrator? 

Well, I have a bachelor’s degree, so I have had as much schooling as most other professionals.  I have always loved drawing and have been doing it since I was very little.  It takes many hours to complete a painting.  First I have to get the sketch just right with a composition I am happy with.  Then I have to transfer that sketch onto a board.  Sometimes I do a color study on the computer to decide what colors I am going to use.  Then the painting itself takes many many hours.

How many paintings have you done?  Do you have a favorite?

Oh goodness, I have done countless paintings.  I have big bins full of old paintings.  I kind of stick to one style now, but I’ve gone through many different styles and mediums.  I think one of my favorite paintings right now is “The Queen of Sheep-baa.” 

I really like making animal characters and want to do many more, maybe even someday a book with some fun animal characters.

Where do you get your inspirations for paintings? Do you ever get ideas from your family?

I am inspired by many great artists and illustrators.  As for my ideas, I get those from many things including things I used to imagine as a child, and things that are going on with my family.  Sometimes my imagination comes up with things out of nowhere.  A lot of the time I am doing jobs for a client and they tell me what to draw (which is certainly not as fun).  I really like fairy tales.  I like to modernize them and make them silly.  In fact, I’m working on a whole new website based on silly fairy tales.  Come back and visit my website in a couple months to see what I mean.  My little three year old, Cassidy, is really into fairy tales, so some of the things she enjoys inspire me.  Some of the things she says and does give me ideas for stories that I would like to write and illustrate.  My husband also helps me think of ideas.  He is a graphic designer, so he helps critique my work and helps me improve things.
Do you feel like you have a particular style of illustrating, and if so, how would you describe it?

I feel like I have my own children’s storybook style.  I guess if I were to describe it, I would say, clean, detailed,colorful and whimsical with interesting angles and compositions (at least that’s what I’m shooting for. . .).

Which do you prefer to draw – fantasy pictures or realistic ones?

Definitely fantasy.  I love making up my own worlds where anything can happen.
What medium do you usually paint in?

Acrylic Paints.  I do some black and white work with charcoal pencils and micron pens.

Have you ever thought about writing your own book? What would it be about?

Yes, I’ve actually written a few of my own, but have never gotten a story good enough to send out.  I think I would enjoy writing a picture book about a crazy fairy tale or about animal characters.

Now the rapid-fire questions…things that kids (and adults who think like them) need to know!

What is your favorite painter or painting of all time, and why?

How can I pick one?  Well, one of my favorites would be John William Waterhouse.  His skin tones are beautiful and I love his style and the way he applied his paint.  His subject matter was usually fairy-talesque.   There are countless other painters and illustrators I greatly admire.  A current artist I love is James Christensen.  If you saw his work, you would probably know why.

Favorite book ever?

Oh goodness, I can’t just choose one.  I of course love the Harry Potter series.  One book I read recently that I thoroughly enjoyed is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.  As for illustrated children’s books, there are too many to count, but my favorite author/illustrators are Dr. Seuss and Chris Van Allsburg.

Your favorite kind of pie?

Banana Cream Pie.   Mmmmmmmmm!

Favorite sport?

Well, sorry folks, I’m not much of a sports fan.  I do enjoy watching some sports.  Actually, I’m more into dance, if you can count that as a sport.  I was actually thinking of being a ballet teacher in my earlier years before I decided to become an illustrator.

Your website gives your name as Shawna J.C. Tenney. What does the JC stand for?

Shawna Jean Calder Tenney
Favorite animal?

Sea Lions

Favorite color?

I don’t think it is legal for an illustrator to choose just one favorite color.

We read about your cat on your website. How come you chose Bongo as his name?

We found Bongo in my parent in law’s window well.  He was a sweet little orange kitten.  My husband chose Bongo as his name and  it stuck.

Has your cat Bongo ever helped with a painting?  Or ruined a painting?

Bongo posed for the cat talking on the phone on my website, although he was very embarrassed to have to dress up like a girl.  Sometimes Bongo tries to bite my feet while I’m painting.  Sometimes he tries to jump up on my lap or drink my painting water.  One time he stepped in my pallet and walked over my painting.  That wasn’t the worst I’ve had though.  Cassidy who is now three has painted on several of my paintings that I had to get to clients.  Fortunately acrylics are forgiving and I was able to fix them.  Madeline, my one year old, hasn’t ruined any paintings. . .yet.

 Thanks, Shawna, for taking the time to visit with us, and thanks for giving your time and talents for the Robert’s Snow project!

Thank you!  It was really fun.  What a fun project for your classes to do!  Hope you’re all having a great year

Please be sure to check out Shawna’s snowflake and all of the amazing work at the Robert’s Snow Auction Site.

And…to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Allie’s Bike and a print signed by Shawna Tenney, please post a comment below, mentioning one of your favorite snowflakes in the Robert’s Snow fundraiser.  You don’t have to have a blog to win, but be sure we have a way to get in touch with you.  A winner will be drawn in early December, after the auction.

I can’t wait for SNOW!

No- wait…not that kind of snow (even though I am a skier and start to get excited when the temperature drops below 50). 

I’m excited about ROBERT’S SNOW: FOR CANCER’S CURE — a huge, bright, and beautiful fund raiser for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  You’re probably familiar with children’s book author-illustrator Grace Lin, who began this incredible campaign with her husband Robert Mercer after he was diagnosed with cancer several years ago.  Robert died at the end of August, so this year’s fund raiser is a bittersweet tribute to his life and his work.  Children’s book illustrators — more than 160 so far this year —  have created breath-taking, original snowflake ornaments to be auctioned off to raise money for cancer research.  This year, kid-lit bloggers are helping to spread the word about the auction by featuring interviews and profiles of these illustrators on their blogs, as well as their snowflakes and a link to the auction.  I’ll be featuring Judy Schachner, Amy Young, Sara Kahn, Cecily Lang, and Shawna Tenney on Kate’s Book Blog some time in October or November. I hope you’ll stop by to meet these generous artists, enjoy their creations, and bid if you can.

I love projects that bring people together like this.  I love it when kindness counteracts all the cynicism out there in the world.  And I love it when kids have a chance to be a part of it.  My 7th grade students are going to be exploring the work of my five illustrators, helping out with the interviews and profiles, and creating their own snowflake ornaments to sell in our community so that we can make an extra donation to the Dana-Farber Institute.  I cannot WAIT to tell them about this project. 

I know there are others on my LJ friends list —  like






, and

 — who will be featuring illustrators, too, so be sure to visit them over the next few months to meet some incredible artists.  If you want to learn more about Robert’s Snow, you can drop in on Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, whose organization on this project amazes me, and whose belief that written words can help change the world is an inspiration.