nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Now you see her, now you don’t. Peruvian-born, Philadelphia-based camouflage artist Cecilia Paredes creates extraordinary “photo performances” using her own body as part of the canvas.

She blends in with beautiful patterned backgrounds by painting her own skin (sometimes her entire body), or wearing painted clothing that will allow her to disappear/reappear.

Such precise, tedious work to transfer all the details onto a three dimensional surface! Cecilia was initially inspired to begin this photographic series because of her constant relocation, using the body as part of the intended landscape. How do we adjust to our new surroundings? How do we fit in?

Her artist statement:

Part of what makes us human is our ability to see beyond the narrow door through which we enter the world—to grow beyond the culture of our birth by recognizing other cultures, other patterns of life. Yet our birth culture is always imprinted upon us; the mystery of identity is never fully resolved. We are always from a time and place to which we can never return.

We continue to marvel as she explores themes of self identity, belonging, displacement, invisibility/visibility, emotional interiors, and body politics. Her striking, thought-provoking pieces certainly encompass self reflection as well as social commentary. Coincidentally, her last name, “Paredes,” means “Walls” in Spanish. Some of her pieces are for sale here.


2. You may know I’m a longtime fan of Salley Mavor’s exquisite fabric relief artwork. I religiously follow her Facebook updates and blog to see what she’s currently working on, and am constantly awed and amazed by her creativity and productivity. For the last year, she’s been working on a stop-motion animation movie called “Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free.” She hopes to release it this summer. Can’t wait!

from In the Heart (2001)

Meanwhile, just wanted to give you the heads up in case you weren’t aware that in addition to notecards, posters, and prints, Salley has autographed books for sale in her Etsy Shop, Wee Folk Studio. Both of her Felt Wee Folk craft books as well as two picture books, In the Heart and Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, are currently available. Wonderful gifts and keepsakes!

In the Heart (2001)


from Pocketful of Posies (2010)


3. March is a very good month for poet, author and educator Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. She has two new books being released!

Dreaming of You, illustrated by Aaron DeWitt (Boyds Mills Press 2018) just came out on March 6:

This soothing bedtime story explores the question, When animals sleep, what do they see in their dreams? The lyrical text tells readers that chipmunks dream of digging deep burrows, puppies dream of long, waggy walks, and horses dream of wild, windy rides. But most of all, the animals dream of all the fun and adventure the next day will bring. The gentle rhymes and gorgeous, serene illustrations combine to create a comforting story perfect for transitioning from a busy day to being tucked in peacefully at night.

Dreaming of You has already earned a *starred review* from Kirkus, who described it as, “sweetly imaginative, linguistically rich, and featuring enlivening vocabulary with lots of active verbs and new and interesting nouns and adjectives.”


And, on March 27, With My Hands: Poems About Making Things, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Clarion Books, 2018) will officially hit shelves:

Building, baking, folding, drawing, shaping . . . making something with your own hands is a special, personal experience. Taking an idea from your imagination and turning it into something real is satisfying and makes the maker proud.

With My Hands is an inspiring invitation to tap into creativity and enjoy the hands-on energy that comes from making things.

I’m looking forward to featuring both books in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. 🙂

Double Congratulations to Amy!!


4. I don’t know. There’s just something about these fruity pencil cases. I was big on pencil cases in grade school and still lament the loss of my shiny royal blue one. These colorful cuties are so cheery I’m sure my pens and pencils would enjoy hanging out in them. 🙂

They’re about 8 inches long and made of bicast leather. Get yours here. Fun! :).


5. Tune into some good grub: Eat Like a Rock Star: 100 Recipes from Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Greatest by Mark Bego (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017)!

Who knew that Bill Wyman (The Rolling Stones) makes an amazing Lamb Chops with Endive and Blue Cheese Salad, that Michael McDonald (The Doobie Brothers) loves Pasta with Ham and Parmesan Cheese, or that Boz Scaggs eats Tuscan Grilled Chicken?

With more than a hundred recipes from seven decades of rock ‘n’ roll, pop, country, RnB, and disco, Mark Bego, along with Mary Wilson of The Supremes, gathers beloved recipes from legendary rocker friends and invites the ultimate music fan to put on an apron and join them at the table. Featuring each rock star’s biography, their favorite recipe, and other fun facts, Eat Like a Rock Star is a must-have for every die-hard rocker-at-heart who loves to eat.

There is nowhere else you will find Ray Parker Jr.’s Salmon and Eggs, Joey Fatone’s (NSYNC) Rice Balls, Micky Dolenz’s (The Monkees) Micky ‘D’ Cocktail, and Angela Bowie’s (David Bowie’s ex-wife’s) Rosti Hash Brown Potatoes all in one book. Whether it’s brunch, lunch, dinner, or dessert, learn to cook:

• Michelle Phillips’s (The Mamas & The Papas) Organic Lemon Chicken
• Lou Christie’s Linguine with Fresh Tomatoes
• Marilyn McCoo’s (The 5th Dimension) Leg of Lamb
• Glen Campbell’s Favorite Mexican Chicken Casserole
• Sarah Dash’s (Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles) Peach Cobbler, and more!

With a section on head-spinning cocktails, full menu suggestions, as well as author Mark Bego’s own culinary concoctions such as Spicy Szechuan Sesame Noodles and Boozy Banana Cream Pie, look no further for the all-in-one cooking and rock ‘n’ roll companion. As Martha Reeves says about her Smoked Turkey Necks & Lima Beans, “Honey, this is real soul food!”

Okay, I may just pass on the smoked turkey necks but this book sounds like a hoot. Even if I never make any of the recipes, I’m curious to know what these music types like to cook and eat.

You may be wondering who Mark Bego is. He’s written and co-written many pop and country music and showbiz biographies — hence the access to personal recipes from these celebrities. Since Skyhorse Publishing also published Eat Like a Gilmore: The Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Gilmore Girls (2016),  I’m hoping this one will be just as good.

“California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day . . . ”


6. You’re hungry now? Well, what a surprise. Take a little time to enjoy this wonderful “Storymakers in the Kitchen” Kidlit TV video featuring Aram Kim making kimchi pancakes with Rocco Staino. You may remember we interviewed Aram shortly after No Kimchi for Me was published last summer. Put a little spice in your day! Hooray for Aram!


7.  Not too long ago, I stumbled upon Lieke van der Vorst’s work online and fell in love. I admit her food and bear illustrations were the first to catch my eye, but as I explored further, I noticed how calm and peaceful her art in general made me feel.

Lieke hails from the Netherlands, is a nature lover, and draws inspiration from everyday life. In a recent interview, she was asked if there is a message she wishes to convey through her art.

That people should start [to] listen, to themselves, their bodies and nature. It would be so nice if we can all live together without hurting any living thing.

Love her focus on the interconnectedness of all living things, as well as how she blends whimsy/fantasy with reality.

Check out her Liekeland Shop, where she sells prints, cards, and bags.


8. You know me, I need my pottery fix. Been following Nancy Gardner Ceramics for awhile. Nancy is an award winning potter from Illinois who’s been collaborating with her partner Burton Isenstein since 1988.

They produce one-of-a-kind, hand-built and hand decorated pieces, works of art that are meant to be used and enjoyed (the glaze they use is food safe and water tight).


Their work is inspired by historical and contemporary pottery forms, textiles, paintings and illustration. I like the whimsy and quirkiness. See more at their official website and Etsy Shop. Happy stuff!


9. Finally, a hedgehog. This little guy called out to me recently. Just sitting there, all balled up, not demanding anything of anyone — adorable and cozy. Just a lump. Check him out at GladoArt, along with other needle felt animals made by Olga Gladkaya of the Ukraine.

Would you like to adopt this little friend? 🙂


Mustn’t forget our blue song.  Here’s a tune courtesy of the wayback time machine. I think I was in utero when it first came out :D, but I remember hearing it on the radio all the time in grade school. Until I saw this video, I never knew what Jimmy Clanton looked like.







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Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[review + recipe + giveaway] Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Today we are doubly delighted to congratulate Poetry Friday friends Irene Latham and Charles Waters on their brand new poetry picture book, Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship (Carolrhoda, 2018), illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko.


Irene and Charles met in person for the first time at last November’s AASL Conference in Phoenix, AZ.


Officially released January 1st, this timely collection of 33 free verse poems explores the sensitive issues of race, racism, and identity with heart and candor.

Latham and Waters channel their fifth grade selves in alternating poems written by young “Irene,” who’s white, and young “Charles,” who’s black, two public school students working on a classroom Poetry Project together.

In the course of the narrative, we see how Irene and Charles, initially reluctant at being partners, gradually build mutual trust, sowing the seeds of a unique friendship as they discover things about each other, themselves, and the world beyond home and school.

They start out wary and hesitant; shy and quiet Irene describing Charles as “you-never-know-what-he’s-going-to-say Charles,” and gregarious Charles disappointed that he’s “stuck with Irene,” a girl who “hardly says anything . . . Plus she’s white.”

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nine cool things on a tuesday

1. So of course the first cool thing for 2018 is a teapot. January is National Hot Tea Month, after all, and there are those who simply cannot resist handpainted pottery (who me?). 🙂

This beauty is made by Ceramika Artystyczna in Boleslawiec, Poland, and sold via Slavica Polish Pottery. They have a brick and mortar store in Prague, but you can also purchase their pieces online. They have a full range of tableware and bakeware — teapots, plates, bowls, mugs, serving dishes, etc.

Everything is hand decorated and microwave, freezer, dishwasher safe, chip resistant and lead and cadmium free.

And so pretty! Love their patterns.

Enjoy this video showing how their pieces are decorated.

Check out all their offerings here.


2. Look what’s officially out today: Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen: The Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl by Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng (Balzer & Bray, 2018)!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of our greatest writers.

But before that, she was just an ordinary girl.

In fact, young Jane was a bit quiet and shy; if you had met her back then, you might not have noticed her at all. But she would have noticed you.

Jane watched and listened to all the things people around her did and said, and locked those observations away for safekeeping.

Jane also loved to read. She devoured everything in her father’s massive library and before long, she began creating her own stories. In her time, the most popular books were grand adventures and romances, but Jane wanted to go her own way…and went on to invent an entirely new kind of novel.

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen includes a timeline and quotes from Austen’s most popular novels.

Art © 2018 Qin Leng

Who can resist a lovely new picture book biography about the incomparable Jane Austen? I’m a big fan of both Deborah Hopkinson (Fannie in the Kitchen, Independence Cake) and Qin Leng (Happy Birthday, Alice Babette). So happy they teamed up for this one!


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[merry review + giveaway] An Artist’s Night Before Christmas by Joan C. Waites

This holiday season, millions of families will cozy up by the fire to enjoy Clement C. Moore’s iconic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Indeed, many of us know “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by heart, and reciting it re-awakens the child in each of us who still believes. As soon as we hear those first few lines, the magic and wonder begin:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all
through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

Wait a minute. Do you really believe that? 🙂

What if there was a mouse stirring? What would he be doing up late at night while the rest of the house was asleep?

These are the questions award winning author/illustrator Joan C. Waites asked herself, and she’s detailed her answers in a delightful new picture book (the first she has both written and illustrated), An Artist’s Night Before Christmas (Pelican Publishing Co., 2017)!

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chatting with author kate coombs about Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (+ a giveaway!)

“Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Today I’m happy to welcome back award-winning author and poet Kate Coombs to talk about her new poetry picture book, Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (Sounds True, 2017).

Kate introduces the practice of mindfulness to children with fourteen poems that foster an awareness, appreciation and respect for nature through close observation and introspection, which in turn engenders a newfound sense of self.

With Anna Emilia Laitinen’s gorgeous watercolors, each double page spread is an invitation to pause, enter the world of the poem, and internalize the soothing imagery. Kate’s choice of the tanka (five lines divided into syllables of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7) is the perfect vehicle for brief but meaningful contemplation. The book begins with a centering awareness of breath and presence:

I breathe slowly in,
I breathe slowly out. My breath
is a river of peace.
I am here in the world.
Each moment I can breathe and be.

Subsequent poems illuminate various facets of mindfulness and meditation: objectively observing the flow of thoughts that “swim by like little fish,” finding a “quiet place” in the mind when seeking solace, imagining oneself as an element of nature (cloud, stone, river, seed, tree), and living in the moment:

Tomorrow’s an egg
that hasn’t hatched. Yesterday
is a bird that has flown.
But today is real. Here now,
this minute, the true wings.

Young readers will be able to see how nature can be a reassuring refuge in times of trouble, worry, sadness, or other emotional imbalance. By summoning the inner self, they can be a “calm umbrella” in the face of turbulence, or a strong, steadfast tree that remains patient in all seasons.

When days crash thunder
and throw lightning around
I am still, watching.
I am a calm umbrella
inside the blue and gray storm.

Envisioning each floating leaf in a stream as a negative thought drifting away can quiet overwhelming concerns. Above all, cultivating the ability to look within as well as without will enable them to “see the world new” and feel more “alive in this world.”

The illustrations feature a small group of multi-ethnic children in a northern landscape interacting with their surroundings atop tree branches and in hammocks, walking through the woods, and playing together by a campfire, on a hillside, in a boat, under a tent. There are trees in almost every picture and lots of small animals to delight and surprise. The peaceful image of toy boats drifting downstream, a tree-flock of fluttering birds, and a bevy of playful rabbits add to the charm, while butterflies and tadpoles signal transformation.

Sometimes I’m a cloud.
Sometimes a mountain or a stone.
Sometimes I’m a river,
a small seed or a great tree.
But I am always me.


A haven of stillness and beauty, Breathe and Be offers children and their parents a delightful, attainable path to inner peace and a renewed reverence for the natural world. After all, when was the last time you sat on a hillside to watch the clouds drift by, wiggled your toes in the sand, strolled through the woods to hear the whisper of leaves, or lazed in a hammock just “being”?

I see myself
by the ocean, toes touching sand,
fingers finding a shell
at the edge of blue water.
Where is your quiet place?

Let’s find out more about the book from Kate!




What inspired you to write a book of mindfulness poems for kids?

I actually wrote the book on spec! A writing friend of mine had become the children’s editor for Sounds True, which was just starting to publish children’s books such as Good Morning Yoga. She gave me a couple of topics and I was immediately intrigued by the idea of mindfulness. I started researching it and then wrote Breathe and Be. As you can imagine, it turned out to be a really rich experience.

Why did you choose tanka as your poetic form, and why did you write them in first person?

Mindfulness has its roots in Asian religion and philosophy, so I felt the tanka made a good fit. I thought about using haiku, but it just isn’t long enough for the kinds of things I wanted to say. I wanted each poem to be a comfortable, thoughtful little space to wander about in. I didn’t really notice that I wrote in first person! I think it probably made a good fit because mindfulness and meditation are very personal.

Kate’s workspace.

Please tell us a little about your writing process. Did you write most of the poems outdoors?

I did a lot of online research about mindfulness in addition to getting a few books, and I copied and pasted some of the ideas and lists and definitions I found into a document. Then I tried to turn each of the rather abstract ideas into an imagistic poem. Show, don’t tell! Although I didn’t write outside, my office windows overlook a tree-filled canyon, which is a good fit for this book full of trees.

When did you first learn to meditate? What is your daily practice like now?

True confessions: I’m not the world’s best meditator. However, I have learned that being in nature helps me experience mindfulness. I think that’s why this book turned out to be such a celebration of the natural world. I have a pine and scrub oak forest in the small canyon out back, plus 30 houseplants and a balcony herb garden. I wouldn’t know how to live without plants and trees. But with them and other beautiful things, like water and clouds, not to mention birds and bugs, I can be mindful. You don’t need a yoga mat to find peace and focus in nature. Though you can always lie down on your back in the grass!

Kate’s been taking cloud photos for about 5 years, and considers it a form of meditation.

How has practicing mindfulness fueled your creativity?

Mindfulness pulled me in and trying to describe it fueled my creativity. I did start entering a state of mindfulness as I wrote about it. More and more, I experienced the poems mindfully. It’s the most unusual experience I’ve ever had as a writer, creating and then living in a beautiful, tranquil space.

Describe your “quiet place.”

Both of my quiet places are featured in the book: a forest and an ocean shore. To be specific, my forest is in Sequoia National Park. Although I love simply walking the paths among the huge trees, my favorite spots are Round Meadow and Crescent Meadow in the Giant Forest area. Each meadow is filled with green growing things illuminated by sunlight, and each is surrounded by giant Sequoia trees, pines, and undergrowth. There is a combination of quiet and noise there, but the noises are the buzzing of bees and the wind through the grasses and branches. The sky is very blue.

A favorite family vacation spot: Sequoia National Park (1996)

My ocean shore is a beach along the Southern California coast just north of L.A., a little spot called Leo Carrillo that is part of a state park. When we were young we used to go boogie boarding there, but now I’m happy sitting and watching the waves, or walking along the damp sand just beyond the reach of the water, looking at little rocks and shells, the surf and sky, and seabirds, especially pelicans.

Please share your reactions to seeing Anna Emilia Laitinen’s illustrations for the first time. Which is your favorite spread and why?

I first saw the pencil sketches, and they were wonderful—I quickly fell in love with Anna Emilia’s beautiful work. I think its delicacy and peace match the quiet mood of the poems. Like Anna Emilia, I love nature, especially trees. The artwork makes me want to go for a walk in the woods.

I like all of the spreads, but I’m particularly fond of the little fish, just their colors and the way they swirl across the pages, with the children looking a bit like fish themselves.

What thoughts, happy or sad, are floating by you at this very moment?

I’ve had a tough year, but a lot of happy things have come into my life recently, and this book being published is one of them. Even though I know it’s my book, it feels like such a gift because it brings me comfort and happiness when I read it or even think about it. So that’s how I’m feeling right now!

Anything else you’d like us to know about the book?

I found out that the tanka is actually the predecessor of the haiku. Haiku is a cool little format, especially for pinpointing moments in nature. However, the tanka has more leeway both in terms of length and subject matter. I’ve seen it written with a very boring diamond-shaped formula in schools, but the real deal is much better. I hope this book will help kids experiment with writing tanka.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been regrouping lately after experiencing some writer’s block. I’m revising a picture book about traditional Polynesian navigation and I have a few other nonfiction picture books in mind. I’m also revisiting a poetry collection that has languished for months. I have a couple of middle grade projects on the back burner, as well. So we’ll see what happens!

I do have another poetry collection coming out next fall. It’s called Monster School and is a lot of fun, hopefully a little scary, too.

Thanks so much, Kate!!


BREATHE AND BE: A Book of Mindfulness Poems
written by Kate Coombs
illustrated by Anna Emilia Laitinen
published by Sounds True, November 1, 2017
Poetry Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
*Includes an Author’s Note with more info about mindfulness

♥ Check out this cool Story Hour Kit!

♥ Other posts about the book:

♥ Take a few minutes to bask in the beauty and stillness: Enjoy this lovely reading of Breathe and Be:



The publisher has generously donated a copy of Breathe and Be for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post telling us about your favorite “quiet place” no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, November 22, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with BREATHE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!


The lovely, talented, and tea-drinking Jane is hosting the Roundup at Raincity Librarian. Float over there on your autumn leaf of choice and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Go in peace. 🙂

*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2017 Kate Coombs, illustrations © 2017 Anna Emilia Laitinen, published by Sounds True. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.