Sunday, April 8, 2018

Connections Books Make, II

JANICE:  Researching, writing, and illustrating books make connections with people who would never connect otherwise. Our first picture book, Victoria House, is the story of a once elegant Victorian farmhouse that is eventually deserted and falls into disrepair. The cover shows her in the old days when she was lived in and loved.

The story idea came from the classic picture book, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. In this story a house is gradually surrounded by a city and finally moved back out to the country. As an architect and urban planner, Tom was always interested in revitalizing the central city, including our own Austin. And so we decided to reverse the idea of moving out to the country or suburbs.

Instead we moved Victoria into the "urbs" in the middle of the night.

While researching how a house is moved, we met Big Earl and his family who were house movers. We watched them take apart and move a house, the lower floor and upper floor each on a separate truck. When our book was published, they all came to our book signing at Toad Hall.

Now here she is,  moved, reconstructed,  and lived in and loved once more.

As a model for Victoria we chose a house in Navasota, Texas, that we happened to see on a trip to Huntsville. We stopped and knocked on the door. The house was being used for a writers retreat, so we were welcomed to look around and take photographs. A year or so later the house was bought by a Houston family, almost like the family in Victoria House. When they learned about the book, Tom and I were invited to visit, and we became good friends. Not only that, they hired Tom to do some remodeling of our model, a connection we never dreamed of.

Here Tom and I are standing in the gazebo.

 Finally, one day we were driving through an inner city neighborhood in Austin and saw an old house that had just been planted in a vacant lot. Of course, we stopped and talked with the owner and gave him a copy of Victoria House. 
He smiled. "I've already read your book. It's what made me decide to move this house."
Oh, the power of books!

Victoria House is now out of print but we are hoping to bring it back in a new edition.

For more book connections see our blog for May 2010.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Girl Power

JANICE:  Girl power is nothing new. Way back in 1703 Antonio Vivaldi was teaching girls in a Venetian orphanage to play every musical instrument, including the bassoon. The girls' orchestra became famous all over Europe. You can read about Vivaldi and these girls, who were ahead of their time, in this book.

Since they were orphans, many of the girls had no last names, so they were given the name of the instrument each one played, such as Catarina of the Viola or Bettina of the Bassoon. Here they are.

Tom's illustrations are true to Venice. We made several research trips and stayed in a palazzo in the square where Antonio grew up. Tom took photos, sketched, and did some plein air painting.
Kirkus Reviews said: "Giving even Canaletto a run for his money, the illustrator sets expressive, natural-looking figures against golden-toned backdrops of 17th-century Venice's rich interiors, splendid vistas, opulent churches and serene canals . . . (A) fetching introduction to one of the great masters of the Baroque era."

By the time we finished this book I had fallen in love with Vivaldi and these orphan girls, so I wrote another book about one of them, Anna Maria.

Her father made a violin for her before he died. When she plays it, she hears his voice. At the orphanage she quickly becomes Vivaldi's favorite student, making Paolina, one of the other girls, jealous. One night she steals Anna Maria's violin and throws it into a canal. Can Anna Maria ever get it back? Read this book and find out.