These kids are wading in my same canal, but under the watchful eye of several parents. During my youth, our mothers kicked us out of the house early in the morning and told us to stay out until lunch. Then we would stay out all afternoon, too. I remember the signal when to come in was when we started hearing the neighborhood parents calling for their kids. It could be very embarrassing for kids to be called by their pet names like "Sweetie," or "Honey Bear." My dad just whistled for us and we came a running even if we were many blocks away.
Yesterday I took a walk down memory lane -- literally. When I was very young, our family lived next to an irrigation canal. The houses near us got rights on certain summer days to open the little gates to allow water to run from the canal down the hill and onto our gardens and lawns. During the summers, us kids played along the canal bank. We floated little boats, chased the water skeeters, lost our flip flops, and sometimes dammed up the wide place so we could swim. The most fun was swinging across the water and dropping in from our Tarzan swing.
Well, I hadn't visited that canal path in many, many years. I knew that changes had been made, but until yesterday, I didn't know how it had changed. The once rustic and natural canal with a dirt trail has been remodeled into a classic, upscale jogging path complete with police call boxes every few yards. It is beautiful! But it has nearly erased the precious memories of my youth. So, I decided to write a new series of stories documenting some of those cherished moments. (My girls get worried, though, when I tell their children what a feral life I led in my youth.)
So whether my daughters appreciate it or not, I intend to write some stories for my grandchildren about what a fun and free-spirited life I led as a child. Oh, how I wish that more children could know that kind of freedom for exploration.
What I see in my mind, I confess that I really lack the skill to recreate on paper. Even after trying to learn illustration and watercolor technique by fabulous artists via YouTube videos, I just come away with an absolute sense of awe at the artists' talent and abilities who try to teach skills to others. Then, at the end of a video, they say that "anything goes in Art." I hear it all the time. "Art is what you make it." Well, here are some of the first renderings of my illustrations for my new book.
It is the story of my two oldest girls who, whether they liked it or not, grew up needing to be each other's best friend. But they had such different personalities. They could sit down with toys and never figure out how to play together They had such different styles of play. One was a natural caregiver. No matter the toy, she was a mother to it, only wanting to dress it and make a home for it.
The other used her imagination to create stories for the toys and act out the parts of each character. She especially loved playing with her little ponies and felt that she just had to give them very long elaborate names.
For those of you parents in this time of "shelter in place" frustration, I can relate a tiny bit. My girls were not against playing together --- because that was their only choice most of the time --- but it was generally up to me to help them figure out things they could do together that they could enjoy for more than just a few minutes at a time.
This is a story about how Mom comes to the rescue to help them find a way to happily spend time together. I salute all of the parents out there during this time of pandemic crisis who have children who just can't figure out what to do with themselves while they are stuck at home.
So what exactly do you do when you have no schedule, no where you can go, and no one you can see? Read a book? Watch TV? Raid the refrigerator? Stare at the computer screen?
Okay, realistically all of the above.
But I was getting very tired of being stuck inside my house with nothing much to do. So, I started writing and drawing illustrations for a new Picture Book.
I have seven children and each of them told me that they expected I would write a story about them. Matthew's story "Is This Cowboy Food?" was first. It was the easiest to write because we have told that story over and over again for years. Katelyn's story "Who Will Be My Friend?" was also pretty easy to write because that was just her personality and those events really happened. Michael really had "Too Many Sisters" and Mitchell and Camilyn really had adventures on their "Wonderful, Marvelous, Magic Bunk Bed." But, I confess that I was having trouble thinking up the right stories for Kathryn and Carolyn.
Kathryn only liked baby dolls. She liked to dress them, and style their hair. She was not very imaginative though with their names. Every baby doll was named either Marie or Rose and she never acted out any stories with them. The only real story to tell about Kathryn seemed best told in a baby's board book. She liked tactile experiences. So a story about touching different kinds of fabrics or materials of varying textures and ending up with a page about braiding "hair" seemed the perfect story for her. But, I have limited resources as far as printing goes, so I scratched that idea.
Carolyn was such a unique personality that the stories to tell from her childhood seem too fantastic to be relatable to normal children. She started talking and singing songs at 8 months old. She could write her name at 18 months. And she could illustrate recognizable characters from the chapter books we read as a family before she turned 2. She often had "daymares" that terrified her. She claimed she had a haunted head. Once she used an entire ream of white copy paper, drawing just a few lines on each page, but when spread out all over the family room floor and taped together, she had created a puzzle depicting the three-ringed Barnum and Bailey Circus! She was then just 3 years old. Now, who in their right mind would believe any of that?
These two girls were so different, and yet their early lives were inextricably connected. Because our house was so small, they had to share a room. When they were very young, they were the logical playmates for each other, indeed, that was their only choice most days. They tried to play together, but their playing styles were very different. Many days were spent in struggles just trying to find something to do that they could enjoy together.
Ah ha! Lightbulb moment! That's their story!
So, I am now writing them a combined story about a typical day in their lives circa 1986. The working title is "Spin Around Dresses and Click Shoes."
Wouldn't you know the only inspiration picture I have been able to find from the right year is of the backs of their hair! (Oh, and baby Katelyn where is your pretty Spin Around dress?)
Being a mother and grandmother can be a full-time job at Christmas --- just trying to keep up with attending all of the the school band concerts, Church Choir programs, and even ballet class demonstrations. And that's not counting my own performances. So, I have been to my daughter's school band, chorus and orchestra concert (she was the teacher and I did some accompanying). I took my granddaughter to a semi professional orchestra concert. I went to the BYU Celebration of Christmas (choirs and Philharmonic orchestra), 2 Church choir Christmas presentations, and this week I will go to more school band and choir concerts, plus the Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert. I love to get to attend such varied concerts and to support my favorite people.
But a funny thing happened today when I visited my daughter's Church Choir presentation. I wanted to go see my daughter sing and play horn in a woodwind quintet. The drive up to Salt Lake City was scary through rain, slush and snow. I was needing time to decompress once I arrived. The choir was still in rehearsal, and I got the benefit of hearing their music more than once today. The pianist was having a difficult time negotiating the page turns for the last song. I saw him struggling and blurted out, "Do you need a page turner?" He looked surprised, but gladly accepted my offer.
The performance went very well. How many small congregations can boast that they have accomplished musicians who can play "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by J.S. Bach as a woodwind quintet? And then sing a 4-part motet in Latin a cappella as well as other varied and interesting choral pieces. The song I turned pages for was an upbeat and challenging rendition of "The Sussex Carol." My daughter also sang a lovely obligato on one of the songs. (Proud mom moment)
Anyway, back to the funny part. The week before in rehearsal, the pianist had mentioned that he needed a page turner for the last number. My daughter said, "My mom will be here. She can do it." The pianist said that he didn't feel right asking a guest to turn pages. "Oh, she'll just volunteer anyway."
Did my daughter peg me or what? It happened just as she predicted. Mom's are like that, I guess. They want to make sure their favorite people get the support they need. Besides, musicians feel best when they are involved in the music. I love this season of concert-going --- especially when I can get in on the fun!
How does that Irving Berlin/Ira Gershwin ballad go? "The song is ended, but the melody lingers on..."
Sometimes the success of a show is measured by how long the melodies linger on. Many of my Camp Participant's parents approach me even now saying that they still hear their kids singing the tunes from the show around the house. (It has been several weeks now since our performance.) That is such a compliment. Of course, I hope that my songs and their messages linger in the minds of the children. That is the entire point of doing the show. I hope that they will remember to Be Sincere and that Everybody Works AND that these things are GOOD!
But I am floored that the most memorable song from Never Cry Wolf this summer has been the Little Lamb's dance. My daughter's little 22 month old daughter Avery goes around singing "Baa, Baa, Baa" and doing the little dance moves almost nonstop daily. Notice the very nice first position turnout in the feet, the preparatory plie', and the lovely arm position on the turn. This girl is destined to be a ballerina! She will surely become a triple threat -- she can sing (of course, right now she specializes in one word songs as long as that word is "Baa"); she certainly can dance; and here in the household we have witnessed her tendencies towards being a drama queen! To me, that definitely spells T-R-I-P-L-E T-H-R-E-A-T!
When I wrote the first iteration of this show about 20 years ago now, I just needed a little song simple enough for three five-year-old girls to perform. They had had no previous performing experience and were scared of their own shadows. Until the moment of the performance, I could not be certain these three little girls would do anything that they had been taught. But, they surprised us all and had the the audience giggling so much they nearly fell off their chairs. There simply is no arguing with CUTE FACTOR.
So, while I would prefer that "Set for Posterity" or "A View from the Highest Mountain" or "Tapestry of Life" would be the hit songs from the show, I am still pleased that "Baa Baa Baa" enjoys such longevity. The Camp might have ended, but the Song lingers on...
Have you ever worked on a project, and reworked said project, for so long that you really can't look at it objectively anymore?
That was the state I was in a few weeks ago. I have been reviewing my little storybooks and trying to make them all look alike and flow in the same mode so that they could be considered a series. I rewrote the stories in rhyme. I tried to use all of the drawings, but sometimes they didn't work. So I had to either edit them or create completely new ones. I guess I was just so loyal to the old illustrations (that took me so long to make), that I hated to lose them.
And, while trying to tell the stories in rhyme, the books sort of changed their trajectories. They still tell the same events, but the "telling" either gets more entertaining or just gets TOO LONG.
Unfortunately, I think the latter happened to "Who Will Be My Friend?"
I had given myself a deadline to get it finished and to the printer. I ran into some more problems finding a copy shop that could print in landscape orientation. Finally, I found a place that said they could do it, but they had to order special paper. That took longer than expected, so I had to wait a couple of extra weeks before I saw the final product. The owner of the copy shop felt so bad about the delay that he gave me 13 extra complimentary copies!
But when I looked them over -- yes, all 23 of them -- I found so many problems. First off, the glossy paper did not soak in the ink evenly so many of the illustrations looked washed out and not true. Then after I showed it and read it aloud to several trusted people, they concurred with me that it was just too long. Had I not jumped the gun to meet that artificial deadline I gave myself, I probably would have caught the problems before I got stuck with 23 inferior copies.
So, the last few days, I have reworked the illustrations and pages again to see if I could get the plot to move along with more momentum. It dawned on me that with MAGIC Photoshop powers, I could figure out new ways to use the illustrations I was loathe to part with and just write different words. So now I think I am ready to go get the new improved SHORTENED copy printed. Yay!
When I wrote my first Picture Book, "Is This Cowboy Food?" I had no aspirations for writing an entire storybook series. I just thought that the experiences our family shared with the silly antics of our second son were pretty funny and would certainly be remembered and enjoyed by the family. Then when I gave copies out as Christmas gifts to our kids and grandkids, my oldest son stated matter-of-factly, "Mom, there are seven of us. We each expect our own storybook." I guess that was a sort of vote of confidence -- 1. that he thought I could do it and 2. that he thought that each of his siblings actually had a funny, entertaining story to tell. (Only four to go!)
I learned a lot in producing "Is This Cowboy Food?" the first time. I searched out inspiration and became acquainted with many styles of drawing, coloring, layouts, positive and negative space on the page, how to use surprise elements, create expressive faces, and the list goes on. My drawings were not as polished as I wanted, but they were as good as I knew how to do at the time. I knew a little about coloring in pencils and painting with watercolor and markers, but my skill sure need to be honed. As for the writing style...well, I didn't have one.
So, now after writing and illustrating two other books, I decided to revisit the first story. Now I know my writing style --- do it in rhyme and try to make people chuckle. Because I learned that I needed to focus this story to about a 5 to 6 year old demographic (plus the adults who might be the readers and any other listening ears), I made the main character sort of a non-distinct age of 5-ish -- even though our real little son was a "not yet four" through age five year old kid. From the trial-runs I have had with willing reviewers, this story should appeal to the families of 5-6 year olds. After all, almost every family has that one kid who fixates on something FOR A LONG LONG TIME!!!
Since getting feedback on my storybook "Too Many Sisters," I have been complimented on how enjoyable read-aloud books in rhyme are. So, I have been re-examining and re-imagining my first two books and re-doing them in rhyme.
This has been quite a project. We lived through the story events when the kids were young, and those events did not happen in "rhyme." But I thought to myself, if anyone can re-write history in rhyming couplets a songwriter should. I have had a lot of time to think about this as I have been serving my husband in his illness. I sit and rub his feet or wait around through his doctor appointments or sit with him while he sleeps in the hospital. So, I have learned to keep a pencil and a sketchbook handy.
But I am happy to say that I have now finished "Who Will Be My Friend?" a book about our daughter Katelyn when she was getting ready for Kindergarten. Fortunately, the drawings worked even though I had to reorder some of them to fit how the rhymes changed the flow of the story. And I have almost finished "Is This Cowboy Food?" a book about our middle son Matthew who needed to be convinced that all his meals were authentic cowboy food --- and then he would eat them. For that book, I have had to do a few new drawings and rework many of the others. Finding the time to devote to working on the computer has been challenging. It's coming along, but not done yet.
In the meantime, I wrote a story for my two youngest children per their request. "The Wonderful, Marvelous, Magic Bunk Bed." It is also in rhyme. When I showed it to my daughter she said that it was a very nice story but not about them. I explained that what they remembered doing in their childhoods was NOT suitable for a children's book. They told me horrible things --- about the time they got the kitchen knives and had fun throwing them at the wall from the top bunk. And about the time they pretended the floor was hot lava so they had to climb on all of the furniture to get around the room. And the memories of their dastardly deeds get worse from there! Still, I have been working on ideas for the drawings. I just don't want to draw scary things!
So, I am still re-working and re-imaging their story --- but it will be in rhyme.
The Christmas gift-giving season has come and gone, but the reactions to my storybook "Too Many Sisters" keep coming in. The photo above is of a good friend of ours and some of her grandchildren. These kids come to visit often on the weekends. The children insist that Grandma read this storybook at least once during every visit. The Grandpa told me that even though they know how the story ends, the girls listen with rapt attention and still root for the boy in the story that he will finally get a little brother. The looks on the girl's faces in the photo tell all. My friend said that the children especially like the idea that this was a true story about a real family that Grandma really knows. How fun is that?
Another friend took her copy of the book over to her son's house and read it to her grandchildren. The 12 year-old boy (who only happened to be sitting in the room while Grandma read the story to his little twin sisters) started laughing and laughing and finally came over to look at the pictures. Afterwards he told his Grandma "This is my life!" Needless to say, they all loved it.
So how did it go over with my own family and the boy whose story it is? First off, they love the idea that these family stories are being captured in a fun and entertaining way for future generations to share. Everybody really loved hearing this story read out loud and were delighted that it was in rhyme. They thought it was very entertaining. We read it together on Christmas Eve and laughed and laughed. They told me that this was my best art work yet. And Michael whole-heartily approved.
My two youngest children, however, told me that it was time for me to write a story that included them. So, they have been giving me ideas for my next storybook. They even gave me the title "The Wonderful, Marvelous Magic Bunk Bed." However, when they told me some of their memories from sharing a bunkbed as kids, I was horrified! Some of their memories would NOT be suitable for a children's bedtime story! Maybe a Grimm's Fairytale, but not a gentle sweet bedtime story. However, it is a great title for a story. I may have to use a lot of artistic license for this next one.
Two years ago, I presented my family with a storybook about our middle son. It was a retelling of one of our family's now infamous stories. I decided to write it and illustrate it myself. I really had no idea how to do it. I could sketch, but finishing an illustrated book with painting and proper design.... yikes! Anyway, I took the advice of many, and did a combination of pencil, ink and markers to color the pictures. Then I used the only processing program I knew, and created the page designs. It was not
exactly what I envisioned, but I got "Is This Cowboy Food?" accomplished in time for Christmas 2016.
The reaction from my children and their children was not what I expected. My oldest son announced, "Mom, there are seven of us. We each expect our own story." I swallowed hard. He said that now I knew just what to give for the next six Christmases. So, in 2017, I wrote and illustrated a story about our third daughter, "Who Will Be My Friend?" The problem was that I did not realize that printing the pages landscape instead of portrait was going to pose a real problem. My favorite local copy shop couldn't print a book in landscape. I also did not realize that I needed to make sure the program I used had printer-friendly colors not Web-friendly colors. I found another copy shop that could print landscape (although in a much smaller size), but the colors were not good because I used the WEB color settings. This is such a learning process!
I decided that I needed to get more knowledge about illustrating storybooks. So, obviously, I started watching YouTube videos. And I learned I needed to invest in a Wacum drawing tablet and stylus and learn Photoshop. Soon I figured out how to clean up my drawings and fix the colors to be brighter and more consistent for the finished product. Then I could use other programs to design the pages and arrange the text. A whole new world opened up to me. I could be a so-so artist and still be able to produce more professional-looking drawings. Amazing!
So, this year in 2018, I have been working on a story about my oldest son. Wasn't sure about the title for his story. It was a toss up between "The Best Big Brother" or "Too Many Sisters." I finally decided that although Michael has turned out to be a really wonderful big brother to a large family, "Too Many Sisters" more appropriately represents the storyline. This book has been a great distraction from the anxiety I have felt in caring for my husband who has been fighting pancreatic cancer this year. It has been therapeutic to think back and relive through drawing and thinking up rhymes some of the happier times in our family's history. Such a blessing!
My name is Betsy Bailey. I have sung, written and taught music all of my life. I enjoy writing and directing Children's Theater shows. This blog will be directed to topics on creating the magic of Children's Theater. I would love to hear your comments!