friday feast: think big by liz garton scanlon and vanessa brantley newton (+ a giveaway!)

Hello, Poetry-Loving Friends!

Had to tell you about my BIG, BIG love for this brand new picture book by Liz Garton Scanlon and Vanessa Brantley Newton. Have you seen it yet?

THINK BIG (Bloomsbury, 2012) is a rollicking, joyous celebration of creativity and imagination that embraces art in all its glorious, soul nourishing forms. And who better to bring this message to young readers than the infinitely talented Liz and Vanessa, who, much like the children featured in the story, grew up thinking outside the box.

Fairy Princess Liz

Their early experiences with creative play enabled them to become the accomplished artists they are today. Their secret? Never losing touch with the child within — the one that’s eager, excited and unafraid to dive right in and experiment, with a mind open and fresh, dwelling in that magical place where all things are possible.

Liz got the idea for this story while discussing art with her daughters years ago. The girls initially thought only in terms of visual art, i.e., paintings in a museum. Liz asked, “What about photography? What about ceramics?” Soon their thinking opened up — what about sewing or knitting or cooking? Many of us might have narrow ideas of what “art” is, and who creates it. It’s nice to see a book that widens that view! πŸ™‚

Reading Think Big reinforced my belief that poets write the best picture books. In a mere 61 words (two-word lines, two-line rhyming couplets), Liz presents an engaging story about a group of industrious kids getting ready for an arts performance. Her text is pared down to its bare essence, masterfully shaped to beautiful effect. It’s all marvelously there — narrative, emotion, rhythm, energy, detail, suspense — making the act of reading an interactive creative experience.

Big voice
On pitch

Pin, trim
Thread, stitch

Red clay
Round wheel

Spin, twirl
Toe, heel

The bustle and excitement are infectious, as these kids sing, sew, throw, and dance their way through this collaborative project. Makes you want to jump right in and do exactly what they’re doing.

In a glowing review, Kirkus said, “Scanlon’s spare rhyming text bursts with gusto. No page has more than four words, but every word’s turbocharged because of flawless scansion and exuberance.” Yes! The art of poetry is all about distilling emotion, condensing expression, turbo-charging each and every word.

Vanessa’s charming visual narrative, featuring a diverse group of kids and a frolicsome black cat, captures the sheer joy of doing, making, participating, working together for something bigger than themselves, whether it’s painting, playing music, decorating the set, making tickets and playbills, and — *wait for it* — cooking up refreshments! Love the total immersion and full inclusion with no one sitting on the sidelines.

Pinch salt
Dice, chop

Click, flash
Time stop

Vanessa’s charcoal, gouache and mixed media collages convey the very essence of craft and creativity with their floral patterns and plaids, vibrant colors, dots, stitches, smudges and hand prints. Busy, busy, busy — the perfect “rehearsal” for what these kids might want to be when they grow up! Every activity, an art worth pursuing. Oh, the possibilities!

I asked both Liz and Vanessa about what artsy things they liked to do when they were little.


Some of you may know that besides illustrating children’s books and magazines, Vanessa loves to write stories, make dolls, COOK, and work on a variety of crafts. She was an artist from day one and has never looked back.

Vanessa: I love the smell of crayons and markers and chalk! I loved this stuff. I wanted a pad of paper and pencil more than anything in the world. I would draw and draw and create my own little world when I was a kid.

I was picked on very, very badly way up into my high school years. I am dyslexic and I found the way to express myself was through art. I love to cut paper as well. So I spent lots of time cutting paper into shapes and coloring them. I loved the work of Mr. Ezra Jack Keats and tried to create what I saw in the books he created. He created a mood with his artwork and that is what I wanted to do as a child. He made me feel like I was a character from one of his books. So I would have to say collage was one of my favorite things to do when I was small.

Liz is the perfect example of someone who was born with an artistic sensibility, whose life has been guided by creative impulses.

Clown Liz

Liz: When I was a girl, my creative impulse was toward drama. My roles included a singing school bell and a queen bee — not the teen-agey type, but a real bee. I had every intention of growing up to be an actress living on a horse farm, which is a far cry from where I am today.

Well, except, maybe it’s not. The leaning toward self-expression, toward risk, toward connection, toward space, toward a need for public AND private, toward something magical and childlike? That’s all still in me, and feeling very satisfied . . .

Cowgirl Liz

It’s wonderful to see how Liz has fostered these same values in her daughters:

Drawing and Coloring

I was also struck by what Liz said in her guest post at Cynsations back in July:

As adults, we’ve learned that there aren’t limits on types or kinds of art, but we proceed to limit ourselves, our possibilities, our attempts. We tend to stop trying new forms of art and, when we do dabble, we’re self-deprecating about it.

Kids are a lot bolder and braver in this than we are.

Making art can energize us, can help us heal, can feel like play, can provide a way to process things, can bring us joy.


Ultimately, Think Big reminds us that whatever creative way we choose to express ourselves is valid and valuable, because life is an art, the world of time and space our personal canvas.

Big breath
Brave heart

Ready, set . . .
Make art!

* * *


written by Liz Garton Scanlon
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton
published by Bloomsbury, 2012
Picture book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
Cool themes: art, creativity, theatre, cooperation, school, diversity

* * *

For a chance to win a signed (by Liz) copy of Think Big, simply leave a comment at this post telling us what your creative passion was when you were growing up, no later than midnight (EDT) Thursday, September 27, 2012.

You can also enter by sending an email with “MAKE ART” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Extra entries for blogging, tweeting, or Facebooking about this giveaway. Winner will be announced here next Poetry Friday, September 28th. Open to U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!

* * *


β™₯ Check out Liz Scanlon’s Official Website and LiveJournal blog.

β™₯ See more of Vanessa Brantley Newton’s art at her Ooh La La Design Studio!

β™₯ Click here for a super duper faboo Think Big Curriculum Guide created by Natalie Dias Lorenzi, which features a boatload of cool activities as well as interviews with both Liz and Vanessa. (For my money, Natalie makes the best guides on the planet.)

β™₯ Don’t miss this recent interview with Vanessa at the 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting & Research.

* * *

The beautiful, talented, and sometimes cowboy talkin’ poet/writer/editor RenΓ©e La Tulippe is hosting today’s Roundup at No Water River. Mosey on over and check out all the tasty poetic offerings she’s got on the menu. Is that apple pie I smell? Happy Autumn!

Here’s a big piece for you!


*Spreads from Think Big reproduced with permission of the publisher, text copyright Β© 2012 Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrations Β© 2012 Vanessa Brantley Newton, published by Bloomsbury. All rights reserved.

**Apple Pie via TexasRibs.

Copyright Β© 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

53 thoughts on “friday feast: think big by liz garton scanlon and vanessa brantley newton (+ a giveaway!)

  1. Well, it’s just an amazing looking book, beautiful to see & I’m sure, to hear. Since so much of our school is full of creative work, I know teachers who would love this, including me! I’ll be tweeting this too Jama, & sharing if you post on Facebook. Thanks for another wonderful review.


    1. Oh, I love seeing all these wonderful pictures! Liz is so right about the ways we limit ourselves. I just read THINK BIG as a library book but would love to have my own copy–it’s fantastic. My artistic expression growing up was mostly centered on building homes and sewing clothes for my dolls and creatures. I would use the styrofoam packing planks/weirdly-shaped things to make elaborate houses, stables, schools, etc. I’d build tiny furniture out of all sorts of found objects and then sew curtains and clothes and stuff. I was not traditionally artistic, but I was always drawn into taking one thing and turning it into something else. Lovely post, Jama!


      1. That’s so cool, Laura — building little towns for your dolls and animals, and dressing them to boot! AND you were recycling at the same time. πŸ™‚ How old were you when you wrote your first poem?


    1. This book is great for jump starting all kinds of new projects, inspiring you to try things you’ve never tried before. Good luck with the giveaway :).


  2. I love all things artsy and creative – especially if used as a powerful expression of one’s being. I enjoyed seeing all the pictures as well as knowing more about Liz and Vanessa’s creative journeys when they were young kids – those photos are priceless! I especially loved the Clown Photo, such glee and joy in these portraits.

    Creative passion while I was growing up: recording myself on ‘tape’ while reading my favorite books – and this was before the advent of audio books. I was loathe to return Little Women and The Prince and the Pauper to my cousin (now an award-winning film writer/director) who loaned her precious copies to me. And so, I read all these books ALOUD and recorded myself on tape. πŸ™‚ Talk about having a LOT of time on my hands. πŸ™‚


  3. Oh, I love this post! Can’t wait to see the book in person, and thanks to all of you for sharing these childhood memories and pix. Actually, since I just launched my new art endeavor this week, I felt really inspired reading this. (Pass the Kleenex, please.)

    As a kid I drew all the time, made plays with my cousin (thank you, longsuffering parents for watching them), wrote songs – one for a pet lizard, poems, and stories, and created an entire village of pipe cleaner people with little cotton ball heads and fabric outfits! A young girl came by my art booth last weekend who had fashioned an entire living area for her Elf on the Shelf, including making little blank journals for it, so imagination is still alive in spite of our crazy culture.


    1. How inspiring! You were quite a busy bee growing up — and it’s beautiful how you’re still creating art in so many different forms. Congrats on the new Etsy shop! I’m “crushing on” one of your prints in my sidebar here :).


  4. My creative outlet was drawing — and it still pretty much is. It’s when I’m in “the zone”. It’s fun to see that my daughters enjoy it the way I did.


  5. My childhood passion was puppets…thanks to Bert and Ernie, Kermit and Grover. I sewed them from felt, decorated paper bags and cardboard egg crates, even tried stringing marionettes. Then I wrote and performed Punch and Judy-esque type performances. Thanks to my family for watching all my ‘over the back of the couch’ performances!


  6. Looking forward to reading this book! My creative outlet was reading and then holding plays with siblings and friends. πŸ™‚ So much fun.


  7. What a wonderful book concept. I will use this over and over in my creativity talks with teachers!
    And my childhood days were filled with building forts on the beach, all built of collected driftwood, small forts, whole neighborhood forts, crab forts, one for the dog… and every single one eventually washed away by a rising tide…


  8. This is such a beautiful book that the last couplet ought to be tattooed somewhere on me. I need to remember how making art is a matter of simplicity and just bravely doing it. It was so much easier when we weren’t paying so much attention to ourselves. When I was a kid, I wrote Sears catalog novels – speech bubbles for the models in their stiff poses, making up an entire narrative which kept my mother in stitches.

    I’m mid-revision, so I am only wishing coming up with story was still that easy.
    But, it’s in there. It’ll come, I guess…

    Big breath… brave heart…


    1. Sears catalog novels — definitely a first! I don’t think ANYONE else anywhere has ever done that. What did the male models in their underwear talk about? πŸ™‚


  9. When I was younger I was always outdoors. I think perhaps my father wished he might have had a couple of sons instead of daughters but he instilled in me an appreciation for nature and to notice the little details in the world around us. I would spend hours collecting grasses, wild flowers and leaves, pressing them between paper to use in homemade stationery. I made countless terrariums.
    Thank you to Liz and Vanessa for creating this book and to you, Jama, for highlighting it today.


  10. YUM!! This book is so delicious! I don’t have a copy yet for home so I am hoping to win your giveaway. When I was a kid I used to wander around the house moaning to my mom that I needed an art project to do. She got so fed up with my whining she found a huge cardboard box and filled it with scraps & do-dads, paint and clay and glue and a sewing kit and clothes pins orand whatever was lying around. When the fever hit me she just pulled out the box and let me go. I made up all sorts of mess and a few cool gifts. I LOVED that box!


    1. Your mom was very wise — provide the materials and let you go wild. Being in the zone when creating something new that wasn’t there before is the best high, isn’t it?


  11. What a fabulous post! I LOVE IT!!!! I really do. Sometimes reading these post much like an out of body experience for me. I adore the pictures of LIZ!!! Oh my goodness how delicious is this. Jama! Thanks so much. Big Hugs.


    1. Thank YOU, Vanessa. I forgot to mention in the post how much I love the faces, gestures, and body movements on the kids you draw. I read that you base them on real kids you’ve seen or know. They’re just so ALIVE in your pictures.


  12. I loved to draw, and also play with endless scraps of art supplies left over from projects of years gone by. My Grandmother kept these supplies in and around an old desk in her basement. The basement was also filled with generations of antiques! It was a richly creative space. Thank you reminding me of these subterranean antique adventures.


  13. This book looks so amazing, can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! My creative outlet was definitely writing!


  14. Another gorgeous post – a fabulous-sounding book and sweet photographs. I used to sing a lot when I was a child – I went to tea once a week with an elderly neighbour. After tea, we played lexicon and racing demon, she read stories to me and taught me to sing a number of songs – and at Christmas we put on concerts for my parents. She was a retired teacher and had beautiful shepherd and king costumes, but the best was Mary as she had a precious life-size baby doll with a china head… I also did tapestry, and I loved quilling… I’d quite liek to take t up again now. Liz’ words about how as adults we limit our artistic endeavours are very true, I think, – but sadly, I think time is also an issue…


    1. What great times you had! How I envy people with singing talent — and tapestry and quilling, wow — so multi-talented. Your friendship with your neighbor was such a gift!


  15. YES! Sixty-one words! That’s my kinda book, and I might have to agree that poets write the best PBs. I just love books that are spare and let the imagination pick up where the words leave off. This looks absolutely delightful — and what great photos, too! It’s always a treat to see what you cook up, Jama.

    My creative passion as a child was writing poetry, which I started when I was seven. I filled notebook after notebook with my own poems and favorite poems by other people.

    I also loved (and still do) any and all crafts. Weird but true: On rainy days or when I was just bored, I’d carve soap. Just grab a bar of Dove and start whittling. I still have the pig, the elephant, and the turtle I carved in high school. πŸ™‚


    1. You never cease to amaze me. Carving bars of soap? Where does one go to get training for that? πŸ™‚

      Writing poetry since you were seven? A natural talent for sure — no wonder you can whip out those one word wonders and parroties so easily.


  16. I don’t remember having any creative passion as a kid. Too busy swimming and reading. I did write in my little locked diary… does that count, Jama?


  17. No need to enter me on the drawing since others have more people in the right age group around. Just wanted to say this book made me smile! And reminded me of making a gazillion potholders with one of those loop looms.


  18. Jama… Thank you so much for this glorious post! And thanks everyone for your generous comments and good cheer — I hope YOU win the book!


    1. Thank YOU for sharing all these personal photos of you and your beautiful girls — and for wowing us once again with an amazing new book! πŸ™‚


  19. Wow is right, looks like a fabulous book for encouraging creativity! Hooray, Liz, and thanks, Jama! Reading the review and comments brought back a flood of artistic childhood memories: making my own greeting cards, having my own table in the rec room where I could keep all my supplies for making shell jewelry, dolls, & such, entering things in the Hobby & Doll Show (a boardwalk with dolls and some on a sandy beach (I grew up at the seashore.), & yes, potholders on the loom. My brother and I put on puppet and marionette shows and once, when someone gave us a pencil with a golf club on the end, we made a really miniature miniature golf course from cardboard and green felt with a marble for a golf ball!


    1. Love your miniature golf course! So cute. I think I made a few greeting cards myself, too. Puppets and marionettes — what fun. Sounds like you and your brother were very busy!


  20. Jama! I just needed to come back by to say thank you so much again, again for this lovely write up. I have been super busy with books and all and I just had to swing back by before It get’s busy once again. Big hugs to you. Thanks again. Vanessa


    1. So nice of you to drop by again, Vanessa! Have fun with all your projects — you are so multi-talented. Can’t wait to see more more more of your work :)!


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