[chat + giveaway] Ashley Wolff on Only the Cat Saw

 

Miao! We are so pleased and honored to welcome award winning Vermont author, illustrator and teacher Ashley Wolff to Alphabet Soup today.

We’re big fans of her adorable Baby Bear books, classics such as Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for Earth (Mary McKenna Siddals), Baby Beluga (Raffi), and of course, the wildly popular Miss Bindergarten series, written by Joseph Slate.

In all, she’s published close to 70 titles (as either author/illustrator or illustrator), showcasing her lifelong love of nature and animals, and her mastery of a variety of styles and mediums, including acrylic gouache, linoleum block print + watercolor, and collage.

Her most recent self-illustrated picture book, Only the Cat Saw (Beach Lane Books, 2020), is a refreshed edition of a perennial favorite (first published by Dodd, Mead back in 1985) with all new art for a new generation. In this gentle, calming story, a multiracial family of four go about their daily routine from sunset to sunrise, while their marmalade tabby observes the wonders and beauty of the natural world.

 

 

As they’re busy with supper, only the cat notices the colorful sunset outside the window. During bath time, the cat has wandered out by the barn to play with fireflies, and while the older child, Tessa, reads with her flashlight under the covers, the cat witnesses the drama of an owl hunting a mouse. Oh, the wonderful things people miss when they’re preoccupied!

Spare text + single page spreads tracking the family’s indoor activities alternate with double page wordless spreads showing what the cat is up to. With each block of text, the repetitive tag line, “So only the cat saw . . . ” signals a suspenseful page turn that rewards the reader with beautiful scenes rendered in rich colors and lush textures, immersing him/her in the cat’s world of tall grasses, sleepy farm animals, lightning and rain, even a shooting star.

 

 

I love what Ashley has done with scale, perspective, and composition to play up the cat’s point of view, and her lighting effects, from gorgeous sunset and sunrise, to lamplight, flashlight, fireflies, moon and stars underscore the simple joys of life indoors and out. Such a lovely reminder to take time to appreciate what we too often take for granted.

In addition to being cozy and heartwarming, this story is  reassuringly relatable with its depiction of breast feeding, sitting on the potty, and having both parents share equally in household tasks. Kudos to Ashley for initially including these somewhat unusual details in the earlier book from 35 years ago, clear evidence of her feminist, forward thinking! 🙂

 

 

We thank Ashley for dropping by to tell us what it was like to re-illustrate one of her earliest picture books, and for sharing a favorite recipe and so many cool photos. Enjoy!

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ruminating on “call me bourgeois” by alice n. persons

 

Are you a tormented genius? Do you suffer for your art?

Here’s what Maine poet Alice N. Persons has to say about that.

 

Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock (2000)

 

CALL ME BOURGEOIS
by Alice N. Persons

After watching “Pollock”, with Ed Harris
as the tormented genius,
I couldn’t sleep,
thinking about suffering and art.
Should I feel a little shallow
because I’m not a drunk or a slave
to drugs, I pay my bills, like to cook,
and no believer in my genius supports me?
When I have a bad day,
instead of waking up fiercely hung over
and filthy on a Manhattan street,
at the end of this trying day
I do the dull, comforting routines —
let the dogs out, fill the cat food bowl,
floss, check email, and usually (not always)
behave like a grownup
who happens to be a poet.
I don’t like to wear black all the time.
Cigarettes stink.
Bad poets performing their work embarrass me.
I’m all for people expressing themselves,
but I also want them to shower,
and they had better not turn over any
Thanksgiving dinner tables in my vicinity.
Pain makes art
but so do pleasure and normalcy.
Sometimes the quietest person in the band
produces the purest and most lovely sound.

~ from Never Say Never (Moon Pie Press, 2004)

 

Ed Harris in “Pollock” (2000)

 

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Call me amused, and you can certainly call me bourgeois. I’m with Alice on this one. 🙂

I admit when I was younger, the starving, suffering artist trope appealed to me. After I read the Beat Poets, I wanted to go On the Road with Jack Kerouac. The thought of hanging out in dark cafés with beatniks wearing black berets snapping their fingers sounded real cool, daddy-o.

The only thing that mattered was the art, man. Living, breathing, and making it. Who needed food when you could live off creative vapors?

 

American author Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) gestures expansively as he reads poetry at the Artist’s Studio, NYC, 1959 (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)

 

We grow up hearing about artistic geniuses whose lives were full of high drama. They’re often depressed, anxious, schizophrenic, suicidal, or delusional, many of them addicted to alcohol or other drugs. And we wonder — if their lives had been more “normal,” ho-hum, pedestrian — would they have been able to create the works they did?

Abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, for one, was an alcoholic who was diagnosed as clinically neurotic (speculation he may have been bipolar). Prone to drinking binges and drunken stupors, he was largely reclusive and had a volatile personality. His wife Lee Krasner (also an artist) had a huge influence on his work and career. Pollock benefited from Krasner’s extensive knowledge of and training in modern art, and she also introduced him to many critics, collectors, and other artists. Most important, she believed in him, and he implicitly trusted her judgment and opinions.

 

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner

 

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nine cool things on a tuesday

“The New Beautiful” by Carla Golembe

 

1. Isn’t it amazing how six months ago, face masks were the farthest thing from our minds, and now they’ve become an essential part of our daily lives? Such an important (and simple) way of showing care and respect for others.

No matter who you are, or what your tastes or needs may be, there’s a mask for you, from disposable surgical ones to different styles of fabric masks in every conceivable color and print, to those with funny pictures or sayings on them, to beautiful pieces of wearable art. With the right mask, you can even make a bold fashion or political statement.

In the beautiful art category, behold these masks featuring the exquisite work of award winning painter, illustrator and teacher Carla Golembe. Been a Carla fan since she illustrated my third picture book, The Woman in the Moon (Little, Brown, 1995), and I can’t get enough of her color saturated jewel-tone pictures, which embrace spirituality, female empowerment, the wonders of nature, and stewardship of the planet Earth. Love the mystical, magical, mysterious quality of her images.

 

 

If you must wear a mask, why not feel beautiful while doing it? Think also of the pleasure you afford those who see you. And of course it’s always great to support indie artists whenever possible. Win-win!

Do check out Carla’s wonderful designs at Fine Art America — all can be purchased as face masks. Don’t be surprised if you turn heads wherever you go . . .

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2.  New Book Alert! Just released August 4 is Jeannine Atkins’s latest collective verse biography, Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math (Atheneum, 2020):

 

 

Learn about seven groundbreaking women in math and science in this gorgeously written biographical novel-in-verse, a companion to the “original and memorable” (Booklist, starred review) Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science.

After a childhood spent looking up at the stars, Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet and to earn a salary for scientific research. Florence Nightingale was a trailblazing nurse whose work reformed hospitals and one of the founders of the field of medical statistics. The first female electrical engineer, Hertha Marks Ayrton registered twenty-six patents for her inventions.

Marie Tharp helped create the first map of the entire ocean floor, which helped scientists understand our subaquatic world and suggested how the continents shifted. A mathematical prodigy, Katherine Johnson calculated trajectories and launch windows for many NASA projects including the Apollo 11 mission. Edna Lee Paisano, a citizen of the Nez Perce Nation, was the first Native American to work full time for the Census Bureau, overseeing a large increase in American Indian and Alaskan Native representation. And Vera Rubin studied more than two hundred galaxies and found the first strong evidence for dark matter.

Told in vibrant, evocative poems, this stunning novel celebrates seven remarkable women who used math as their key to explore the mysteries of the universe and grew up to do innovative work that changed the world.

I’m ashamed to admit I was only familiar with two of the seven women included in this book — Florence Nightingale and Katherine Johnson. Thank goodness for Jeannine’s ongoing efforts celebrating the accomplishments of brilliant, fascinating, courageous, innovative women. Always a revelation to read about yet another female breaking gender stereotypes (yay for girl power!). And what better way to learn something new than by reading Jeannine’s exquisitely crafted verse? Of course, enough cannot be said about the importance of having strong female role models for today’s readers.

Congratulations, Jeannine! You’ve done it again!

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[tasty review] Follow the Recipe by Marilyn Singer and Marjorie Priceman

 

Hungry?

Then grab a seat at the table and put on a BIG bib. You’re just in time to sample a few literary treats from Follow the Recipe: Poems About Imagination, Celebration & Cake, a truly delectable, joyous “worldwide grand buffet” served up by Marilyn Singer and Marjorie Priceman.

First, I must mention that I’d been drooling over this book ever since I first heard about it in the latter part of 2019, because I’m a longtime fan of both Marilyn’s and Marjorie’s work. Marilyn’s talent and versatility are boundless; not only is she muy prolific, she’s an author and poet who continues to delight us with her inimitable ingenuity.

And safe to say, Marjorie’s, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World (1994), shifted my understanding of what picture books could be, launching my ongoing quest to devour every food-related title I can get my paws on. I was equally thrilled when she later came out with How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. (2013), once again demonstrating her knack for presenting facts in an especially palatable and entertaining way.

 

 

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celebrating colin’s birthday with 2 treats from The Secret Garden Cookbook (+ a giveaway)

♥️ Special thanks to Marian from the Netherlands for inspiring me to write this post. 🙂

“You can have as much earth as you want,” he said. “You remind me of someone else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,” with something like a smile, “take it, child, and make it come alive.”  ~  Archibald Craven (Frances Hodgson Burnett’s, The Secret Garden)

 

 

Guess who’s turning 60 on September 10?

Hint: he knows how to rock a waistcoat and cravat, is fluent in Italian, plays the guitar to relax, likes to tease fellow actor Gary Oldman about the size of his *ahem* manhood, almost voiced Paddington Bear in the movies, looks good WET (dry, and in-between), and even if you cook blue soup, he likes you just as you are.

Yes, it’s Colin, aka my secret husband (SO secret, even he doesn’t know about it). Fine specimen of a human being, don’t you think? Doesn’t look a day over 39. 🙂

 

Colin Firth as Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden (2020).

 

Unless you look at him playing Archibald Craven in the new Secret Garden movie. Have you seen it yet? They were all set for a big UK cinema premiere back in April, followed by the U.S. in August. But of course the pandemic changed everything, so instead, the movie went straight to video on demand beginning August 7, and will now open in UK cinemas October 23.

 

 

Colin, Colin, Colin, you’ve never looked so wretched, weary, or downtrodden. But Archibald is, of course, consumed with grief over the loss of his wife, making him inaccessible to his son and unable to properly care for his newly orphaned niece Mary Lennox, who comes to stay at Misselthwaite Manor.

 

Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters), Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), Colin Craven (Edan Hayhurst), Dickon (Amir Wilson) Archibald Craven (Colin Firth)

 

This new 2020 version (don’t worry, I promise not to be too spoilerish), is the fourth produced for the big screen, and Colin was attracted to the role because of the lavish garden scenes (which unlike previous films, were not confined to a single, walled-in area, but features an expansive, wide ranging terrain representing Mary’s unbounded imagination), as well as the “design concepts” of the castle, which really became a symbol for Archibald’s state of mind: dark, destructive, depressive. The creepiness of the house is highly atmospheric and underscores the tragic decline of what was once a joyful life.

Colin doesn’t get much screen time in the new movie; this makes sense since the story revolves primarily around the three young people: Mary, Colin Craven, and Dickon. The time period has been moved up to 1947, after WWII, instead of the early 1900’s as the book was originally set, and there is a new “character,” a stray dog named Jemima (later Hector, when his gender is confirmed), who helps lead Mary to the garden wall and gate key along with the robin.

 

Mary with Hector (this scraggly pup is a scene stealer!)

 

The spirit remains true to the original — the transformation of sickly, morose, isolated children into happy and healthier souls who blossom and thrive with newfound friendship, fresh air, good and nourishing food, and the magic of making things come alive.

Did you know this was the second time Colin appeared in a Secret Garden adaptation? Thirty-three years ago, when he was just 27, he played an adult Colin Craven in the 1987 Hallmark TV movie that’s told as a flashback from the POV of an adult Mary. Colin only appears at the very end, when he reunites with Mary after the war . . . and there’s romance!

 

Colin as Colin Craven in the 1987 Hallmark TV movie.

 

So it seems fated that Colin appear in these films, since there is a ‘Colin’ who has a major role in the novel, and he actually played this Colin years ago. Something else that’s cool about the 1987 version is that it was filmed at Highclere Castle. As a Downton Abbey fan, I enjoyed seeing familiar exteriors and interiors. 🙂

In addition to studio sets, the new 2020 movie was filmed at various gardens around England and North Wales, on location in Yorkshire, and at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. Knebworth is a cool place all its own, known for hosting awesome rock concerts (Stones, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Eric Clapton), and has been a choice setting for many other films, including “Nanny McPhee” and “The King’s Speech.” I imagine Colin feels quite at home there. 🙂

 

Poor Archibald. He needs some good food to restore his spirits!

 

The Secret Garden is one of my top three all-time favorite children’s novels, so it’s really icing on the cake to see Colin, however briefly, in two of the movies. Revisiting this classic, whether between the covers or up on a screen, tends to make me hungry because hearty farm-fresh Yorkshire fare helped restore Mary and Colin to optimum health. Okay, time to eat.

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