Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Memorable Moment

JANICE:  On a school visit yesterday I had a memorable moment. After my presentation to the fourth grade classes, a teacher, Melissa, came up to me with tears in her eyes.
"I want to tell you a story if I can manage without crying."
"It doesn't matter — emotions are good," I said.
She nodded and began. "Your book, A Paradise Called Texas, changed my life forever."

I caught my breath. "How?"
"When I was in the fourth grade my mother died. Of course, I was devastated. My teacher said she wanted to read a book to me — just the two of us alone, day by day. The book was yours and from it I learned how Mina, a girl my age, dealt with grief when her mother died. I realized that my life would go on and I needed to make the best of it. And, thanks to you, I did."

We embraced and I, too, had tears in my eyes. To think that a book I wrote could have such a profound effect gave me goose bumps. What a responsibility we authors have to our readers.

Melissa went on to say that because her fourth grade teacher helped her through a traumatic experience, she decided to become a teacher herself. What a responsibility teachers have to students as well. Together teachers and writers of children's books can change the world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Oh, Those Koreans!

JANICE:  Those Koreans know what they want. They are eager to introduce their children to the high culture of the world, including western classical music.

First a Korean publisher, Tomato House, bought foreign rights to publish our picture book biography,  I, Vivaldi, (Eerdmans, 2008) and did so beautifully.

So Tom and I were thrilled when they offered to publish our latest picture book,  I, Papa Haydn, even though it has not been published in English. We won't be able to read my words, but as Tom says, "Pictures tell the story no matter what the language."

He is busy painting the final illustrations. Here is a double page spread showing young Joseph Haydn coming into Vienna where he will sing in the boys' choir at St. Stephens Cathedral.

And here Joseph and his teacher, Master Reuter, arrive at the Cathedral.
Publishing date is December, 2013. Thank you, Tomato House. We love you. And who knows, maybe an American publisher will purchase foreign rights to publish the book in English!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nueces River Massacre

JANICE:  The Treue der Union Monument in Comfort, Texas, may be the only Union memorial in the South. It is the burial place of thirty-four German immigrants who died in the Nueces River Massacre during the Civil War for their loyalty to the Union and their refusal to fight for slavery. They were on the right side.

In August of 1862 some sixty German Texans from Comfort and surroundings decided to flee to Mexico and from there to New Orleans where they could join the Union Army. Confederate soldiers followed and, with a full moon still in the sky, attacked their camp on the Nueces River. Thirty-four Germans were killed, including prisoners, and their bodies left to rot in the August sun. After the war was over their bones were brought back to Comfort for burial.

Tom and I recently traveled to Comfort to attend the 150th Anniversary of the Nueces River Massacre and to sign our book, Sophie's War, a historical novel based on this tragedy.

Sophie's father is a political cartoonist who expresses his Unionist views in a San Antonio newspaper. Since Texas has seceded from the Union, his life is in danger. Sophie pleads with him to keep his opinions to himself. But he refuses, saying, "That is why we left Germany – so we could be free to say what we think." Sophie must find a way to save her family.

And we must find a way to have peace on earth. As T.R. Fehrenbach said in a previous ceremony at the Treue der Union Monument, "Will we never learn that violence solves nothing."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lunch on the Lake

JANICE:  As promised in my previous blog, here is Tom's latest painting in his Austin series, a view from the Oasis on Lake Travis. We had several lunch times on the lake before the painting was finished, and we discovered that the spinach enchiladas are the best.
Lunch on the Lake

Thursday, April 19, 2012

When Tom Has No Book to Illustrate

He paints.
Tom has decided to do a series of Austin images. One of the first is "Capitol Guardians." The idea struck us one day as we drove across the Congress Avenue bridge, headed toward the Texas state capitol building. Powerful skyscrapers loomed up on either side of the graceful capitol building, seeming to guard it. Tom snapped some photos.

Back in his studio he made sketches, the final one in ink, using a light table. Notice how he distorted the perspective to make the skyscrapers seem to hover over the capitol and guard it.

Then he traced it in pencil onto watercolor paper and painted.

Tom's next painting project is a glorious view from the Oasis on Lake Travis. We recently spent an entire day there, Tom doing a small color study and a large pencil sketch. The staff has embraced us and the project. They even posted a photo on Facebook of Tom at work. (The Oasis on Lake Travis)

We will return soon so Tom can paint the final scene on location and will post it here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why I Write about the Past

JANICE:  My passion is to make the past come alive for young readers. I am not interested in writing about the present except in my journal. I don't understand the present - indeed, I often feel like an alien because I spend so much time researching and writing about the past. As David McCullough said after completing his biography of John Quincy Adams, "I've been living in the 18th century for a long time and I'm not coming back."

It all started when I read Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels as a child. He traveled around the world alone and wrote about his adventures. One place he described fascinated me more than all the others, the ancient city of Angkor deep in the jungle of Cambodia. A magical place of sculpted temples built by god-kings to insure their immortality, now being devoured by the eternal jungle - a place I yearned to see with my own eyes.
South Gate to Angkor Thom

When, years later, Tom and I visited the ruins of Angkor, I found myself visually reconstructing the crumbling walls, adding color to the bas reliefs, and peopling the streets. I wanted the place to come alive again. Who, I wondered,  carved this surreal gateway into the city of Angkor Thom? The sculptors' names are lost, and all we have left is the name of the god-king, Jayavarman VII, whose image gazes out in the four directions. Thus he became immortal, but I wanted to know the sculptors who made it possible. The first sparks of an idea kindled in my mind, the story of Surya, a lame boy of noble birth, and his quest to become a sculptor despite his father's fierce opposition. For quite some time now I have been living in 13th century Cambodia, and I'm not coming back until Gift of the Gods is revised and finds a home.

Tom was inspired to paint a wraparound cover scene showing Surya on the Avenue of the South. Notice his lion crutches which he carved from koki wood. He longs to be a sculptor's apprentice and carve stone which will last forever, but his father, King Jayavarman's librarian, forbids it. "No son of mine will dirty his hands with stone dust." What can Surya do?