Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Piecing Together A Life

Some people have the gift of looking at something, realizing its potential to be almost anything.  They see the world in hues of color, assorted textures and a plethora of designs. These colors, textures and designs are gathered into their minds; many times they are literally collected to be used later. Their life is lived outside the box.

For nearly three decades author illustrator Lois Ehlert has created, with her wonderful sense of color, use of texture and uniquely designed collage illustrations, picture books for people of all ages.  We are entranced by their beauty as we follow a story or learn more about the simple, everyday things which surround us inside and outside our homes.  In her newest title, The Scraps Book:  Notes from a Colorful Life (Beach Lane Books), page by page, picture by picture, she takes us on a joyous journey, the evolution of her life as an artist, an author and an illustrator.

When I was little,
I read all the books
on the library shelf,
and I thought
maybe someday
I could make
a book.

Fortunately for Lois, both her parents encouraged her artistic undertakings.  As a seamstress her mother had many pieces of fabric and embellishments she shared with Lois.  From her father's workshop she was given pieces of wood.  Both passed on their skills to her and shared their tools. (She still uses her Mom's pinking shears and her Dad's paintbrush.)

A cherished childhood art table, art school, a job in an art studio by day and nights filled with book ideas, fed this artist's soul.  Grocery stores, gardens, a mischievous squirrel, a visit to an aquarium or a family member's home provided ideas which became stories.  Once written she sketched out the entire book page by page.

It was (and still is) a slow process perfecting the precise combination of text and images to tell the envisioned story.  Then the art was (is) painstakingly formed; cutting, painting, shaping and gluing everything into its predetermined space.  Bits and pieces were everywhere as Lois worked; a portion of a pizza pan became a dog's tag, a zipper his mouth and a pop can top his nose.

Photographs, painted, real and found objects, crazy tools for one-of-a-kind patterns all contribute to the style that is Lois Ehlert's alone.  If what she needs is not in her work space, she walks outside until she finds the special necessary element.  A page is not complete until it's utterly flawless.  All you have to do is open any of her books to know this is true.

Using the same informal simple sentences found in all her books, Lois Ehlert explains to readers how

Art chose me. 

from the time she was a little girl. In addition to these one, two or three sentences expressing a thought or process, she has labeled photographs, illustrations from previous books, artistic materials, notes, dummies, sketches, and personal collections on every single page.  On the final four pages she poses a query, offers encouragement and like a fairy godmother sends a wish out to the reader.

Using white to make the cheerful colors on the matching dust jacket and book case call out a welcoming hello to readers, Lois Ehlert envelopes us in her artistic world.  The opening and closing endpapers feature collages of photographed good stuff.  The formal title pages continue this theme; a collection of fonts spelling out Scraps.  With a page turn we are greeted with a frog found in two of her books on the left.  On the right in a bright, bold square text we read:

(unless you love books and art)

Pages are illustrated with photographs, artwork from her books, artistic tools, materials, notes, sketches, preliminary narratives, word lists, and book dummies; many held in place with paperclips.  Some of them convey a single thought on a single page with a separate visual.  Many of the illustrations cross the gutter in a splendiferous array.

I enjoyed every page in this book.  Those including sketches and book dummies with the finished artwork are wonderful.  One of my favorite two pages of illustrations are taken from Ten Little Caterpillars and Waiting for Wings.  They are filled with warmth and vibrancy.

During my first day at the American Library Association Annual Conference and Exhibition 2013 in Chicago last June, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Lois Ehlert.  As I was waiting in line to speak with her, I was given a mock-up of this book to read by her (I think) editor, Allyn Johnston.  At the time I knew it would be an amazing book.  Trust me when I say, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert is amazing with an A+!  It's a museum of her life's work.  It will find a place in my selection of Mock Caldecott books for 2015.

For each of the years I have worked with elementary students, I have done an author study of Lois Ehlert during the time when I am conducting the Mock Caldecott unit with the older students.  One of the highlights of this time is the viewing of her video Get to Know Lois Ehlert (Harcourt Brace).  As with Skype visits this personal connection to authors and illustrators makes their work come alive for readers.

In my personal collection of Lois Ehlert books I have nineteen of the thirty-five titles pictured at the end of this book.  I feel very luck to have one of the original Hands books in the shape of a glove.

Please follow this link to the publisher's website to see pages from this book.  Here is a link to an interview conducted by Julie Danielson at BookPage.  Robin Smith conducted an interview at The Horn Book.  Enjoy the video interview conducted by Reading Rockets.  Here is the link to their site where there are five videos all together.  

I really enjoy participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy each week.  It is one of the best spots to see what nonfiction picture books others are reading.


  1. I really want to read this book and I think I qualify because I love both books and art! :-) You have a beautiful Lois Ehlert collection!

    1. You are the perfect reader for this book, Carrie. I am totally in love with it. And I do enjoy my Lois Ehlert collection. Hope you are feeling much better.

  2. Wow, you've really gotten me excited. I just bought this book, knowing it would be good, and I loved hearing all the things you shared about it. Thank you!

    1. I am happy you are as excited about this book as I am. She is an amazing artist, author and illustrator. Students are really drawn to her work for its simplicity and color. Thanks for visiting the blog.

  3. Oh, I can't wait to read this book! I am so fascinated by getting a peak into the creative process. Thank you for sharing it!

    1. I know you are really going to like it, Mary Ann. It's pure Lois Ehlert on every page. You are welcome.

  4. I must get this book! I love your Lois collection (and beautiful tulips). Another fabulous review, Margie.

    1. Good morning, Jama. This book is everything you like; color, texture and design. Her collections are wonderful as our yours. Thank you Jama. Hope you have sunshine.

  5. Another author whose work I really need to read. And I do love her style of illustration.

    1. I am sure you will not be disappointed. You and your children will become a fan of her work. Thank you for visiting my blog.

  6. Hi Margie! I just picked this book up from the library yesterday! You've convinced me to move it up to the read this immediately pile :) Beautiful review!

    1. I certainly hope you like it as much as I do. Her books have brought a lot of joy to readers. This is a wonderful story of her work. Thank you, Michele for reading the post.