nine cool things on a tuesday

Joan with her self portrait

l. In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are a few portraits by the one and only Joan Baez, who turned 80 in January. I didn’t realize she was such an accomplished painter till I began following her on FB last year — initially for the music videos she posted as the pandemic raged on. It was wonderful seeing her singing in her kitchen!

Malala Yousafzai

Then she began sharing pieces from her first solo exhibition, “Mischief Makers,” featuring “risk-taking visionaries who have brought about social change through nonviolent action.”

Her debut album in 1960 was basically my introduction to folk music and activism. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I always marvel at multi-talented creatives who thrive on a cross fertilization of genres.

Stacey Abrams
Alice Walker
Coretta Scott King

In addition to Joan, musicians I admire who also paint include Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Grace Slick, Ronnie Wood, Ringo Starr, Cat Stevens, Miles Davis, and John Mellencamp.

Kamala Harris

See more Mischief Makers as well as portraits of Friends and Icons at Joan Baez Art. I like all the little backstories for each painting. You can also purchase prints or catalogs there.

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[review + author chat] Margo Sorenson on Little Calabash

Aloha, Friends! If you’re in the mood for a little taste of sunny Hawaii, you’ve come to the right place: Margo Sorenson is back to talk about her latest picture book, Little Calabash (Island Heritage, 2020).

This sweet and satisfying story, illustrated in vibrant, fruity colors by Anneth Lagamo, will delight young readers who enjoy anthropomorphic characters, lively wordplay, and kicking back in the kitchen. 🙂

It’s Keoki’s birthday, and his mom is busy making some delicious treats for his party: haupia pudding, starfruit cookies, and mango cupcakes with guava frosting. As she stirs, mixes, grates, rolls, and pours, she uses a number of different kitchen utensils and calabashes.

But not Little Calabash. He wants to help too, but so far he’s been left out. Is he too small to be of use? Does this mean he isn’t special like the other calabashes?

Some are not so sympathetic.

“Stop your whining,” said the goblet.

You need to chill out,” the refrigerator said, frostily.

“Quit trying to stir up trouble,” said the wooden spoon.

Little Calabash felt a tear form.

Yet others are supportive and encouraging, like the coffee pot, who whispers, “Perk up, kid. You are special. Keep believing in yourself. You’ll see.”

Little Calabash keeps his hopes up, determined to be used for the party. He’s stuck in the back of the shelf, behind the bigger calabashes. Keoki’s mom won’t use him if she can’t find him, right? So he gradually wiggles his way to the front of the cupboard shelf, inch by inch, paying no attention to naysayers like the frying pan, toaster, and teaspoon, who says, “You just don’t measure up.”

Will Little Calabash’s initiative finally pay off? How does Little Calabash make Keoki feel like a big kid on his birthday?

While Margo shows off her skills as an enthusiastic punster, Anneth fills the kitchen with cheeky, emotive culinary characters who sparkle with personality. Kids will never look at kitchen paraphernalia the same way ever again, not after they’ve heard the cocoa mug, mixer, and colander have their say.

Everything has a face, and the various expressions make each piece distinctive. Kids will love poring over the illustrations to check out every tiny detail. Who wouldn’t be tickled by laughing eggs and chopsticks, adorable marshmallows, and an entire platter of smiley fruit? The can opener appears to be quite friendly, while the colander is decidedly aloof. Even the little cork in the olive oil bottle is grinning, while the other calabashes, in all their winsome brownness, come off as warm and lovable.

Kids will root for Little Calabash as they’re reminded that everyone counts, no matter their size. They’ll enjoy pointing out all the different pieces of kitchen equipment and will likely have a good chuckle over the punny dialogue. They can also find out more about the island treats mentioned in the story in the lip-smacking glossary.

Now, let’s hear what Margo has to say about writing the book. We thank her for sharing lots of personal photos and a favorite recipe from Hawaii. And yes, she has her very own calabash!

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nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Mr Cornelius selected this wonderful bear painting for our first Cool Things Roundup of 2021. It was created by UK artist Penny Gaj, who lives and works in one of my favorite places in England, the Cotswolds.

Penny loves to paint imaginary country scenes and trees with a story to tell, blending colors and textures for a dreamy, ethereal effect.

Her pictures are replete with the outlines of branches, twigs, stalks and leaves silhouetted against the sky, rising from rolling hills or lining peaceful woodland paths.

Hares, foxes, squirrels, deer and birds wander freely, with the occasional humans, cats and dogs. 🙂

You can purchase Penny’s art as signed prints, 5×7 cards, A5, and square cards through her official website.

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[zesty review + recipe] Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Tie on your apron!
Roll up your sleeves!
Pans are out, oven is hot.
The kitchen's all ready,
where do we start?

From its very first cheery HELLO! . . . to its final glorious SLURP!, this exuberant, soul-nourishing story demonstrates the good that can come when ordinary people work together to help others.

In Our Little Kitchen (Abrams BFYR, 2020), Caldecott honoree Jillian Tamaki takes us inside a bustling community kitchen, where every Wednesday a crew of hardworking volunteers prepares a meal for their neighbors.

They’re a resourceful, ethnically diverse bunch who get the job done with their no-nonsense brand of high energy, cacophonous teamwork.

Upon arrival, young and old waste no time in assessing available ingredients: “what we’ve grown, what we’ve kept, been given, and bought!”

In the garden they find ripe tomatoes and zucchini, though “the lettuce is holey,” the carrots too small. But in the fridge, a purple-haired teen boy jubilantly discovers carrots, celery and radishes.

They know how to make the best possible use of what’s on hand, cutting the brown bits off apples to make a sweet crumble, tossing day-old bread into the oven (“Soft and warm, good as new!”), and earnestly contemplating what to do with the abundance of food bank beans: “bean salad? bean soup? bean tacos? bean stew?”

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nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Happy December! Though the holidays will definitely feel different this year, we can still daydream about idyllic times past. No better way than to escape into Jane Newland’s art.

Fancy the peaceful countryside or a brisk winter walk? 🙂

You may remember when we featured Jane’s work last year. She’s from the UK and does all her work digitally. Her lovely scenes are calming and filled with exquisite detail.

Deep breath. Deep breath. Ahhhhh . . .

Check out her website shop to purchase prints, and for the latest, follow her on Instagram.

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2. Speaking of the holidays, here’s a sweet gift for a special friend (or why not treat yourself?). Yes, you deserve it. 🙂

Susan Branch’s latest book is called Home for Christmas (Spring Street Publishing, 2020):

A brand new book from  New York Times bestselling author and watercolor artist Susan Branch. Home for Christmas is a heart-warming tale of a childhood Christmas in the years after World War II, with Susan, her parents and her siblings. A book for all ages, told from a child’s perspective, filled with anticipation and hope, it’s a charming story about the enduring love of family that reads like a long illustrated letter. A beautiful Christmas gift, because we need a little EXTRA Christmas now. 

We certainly need an extra large dose of nostalgia this holiday season, especially since many of us will not be attending the usual in-person family gatherings. There’s nothing more comforting than fond memories, reminding us to cherish the times we’ve had and to give us hope that good times will come again.

You probably know I’m a longtime Susan Branch fan; can’t get enough of her charming hand-lettered books and watercolor art. I love her eternal optimism (“happy gene”) and as far as I know, no one does heartwarming better. Her gift books and cookbooks are all treasures. Add this one to your collection.

*More about this book in an upcoming post. 🙂

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