Monday, November 29, 2010


The Always Team is out in the world now, and less than 3 months after its debut, is very close to being sold out -- seems many people want a children's book about the Saskatchewan Roughriders (even if the 'Riders didn't take this year's Grey Cup back to Regina).

The day before the Grey Cup (November 27) was spent at the second annual Calgary Children's Book Fair and Conference, held at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Hall. It was a great turn out of participants and attendees.

The organizers of this wonderful event are YA novelist Simon Rose, children's writer Val Walker (of Hedley the Hedgehog fame), editor Pat Kozak, designer Nic Burman and me.

Next on my plate is a children's non-fiction picture book by author Judy Kirton-- title TBA. We're aiming for a spring 2011 delivery date. Fingers crossed!

Friday, August 13, 2010


Not much longer now... I've spent much of June and July working away on The Always Team, a children's book about the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Now, we await the final product to be printed (it's at Friesens in Manitoba), packaged up and delivered into our anxious little hands.

Holly Preston wrote the tale about a trio of Saskatchewan boys who love the 'Riders, and she brought me on-board to do the illustrations. It's been lots of fun (and a lot of work!). Here's a sample page to show you...

Most of the actual painting was done while I was on vacation with my family in Paris (I did all the line drawings while still in Calgary). We were very fortunate to have the use of a flat in the 16eme arrondisement for three weeks, where I was able to spread out all my painting stuff on the dining room table.

Each morning, before cafe and patisseries, I sat down and painted. You'll note that a great deal of green watercolour was used (Lukas 1171 & 1193, as I recall). Final touches were completed much closer to Mosaic Stadium, on a dining room table in Regina's south end.

Will let you all know when it's released!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Creating a Mandala with a class of kids

One of the moms at my daughter's school asked me if I had any arty ideas for a surprise year-end gift for our kids' very special grade 4 teacher.

The teacher (whom I'll call Mrs Clark 'cause that's her name) is a believer in the connectedness of life, and subscribes to the what-comes-around-goes-around principle. She's also the kind of person who'd love a drawing done on the back of a paper serviette just so long as it comes from the heart.

What could be done, we wondered, that would include each of the students, yet not be too taxing on the kids and their families? The work on this project would have to be done on the homefront without Mrs Clark's knowledge.

We settled on a mandala, which in Sanskrit means "essence" and "having or containing," a symbol representing the entire universe, "the self and inner harmony,"as well as translating to "completion." Perrrr-fect!

Creating a mandala required some geometric figuring and cyphering on my part. With 18 kids in the class, and 360 degrees in a circle, each piece of the pie would have to be ... uh, hang on ... 20 degrees per piece.

So, onto 18 separate sheets of Arches 90 lb hot-pressed paper, I drew a 20-degree piece of pie, along with the delineations I wanted the kids to make, and a place for their name (all would have been lost without this step...).

The other mom whom I'll call Charlotte ('cause that's her name), put together a secret little package of info for each kid to take home.

The package included this piece of pie (see right), a description of the project and what a mandala is, instructions to keep it SECRET, and an example of how they might colour their pie of the mandala (see below).

The toughest job was actually collecting the work from the kids without Mrs Clark knowing what was going on. This meant chasing kids down in the playground, e-mailing parents, peering into grubby backpacks, re-doing 20-degree pie pieces to no end, secret meetings, all in an effort to get the goods for the final piecing together of the mandala.

Once I had all the pieces collected, I used a larger piece of the Arches 90 lb paper, and glued them down to it, initially with a glue-stick. Then, I painted the entire surface with Modge Podge, being careful with the kids' art that was done in felt marker (for future reference, ask the kids to use only pencil crayon, no felts).

Then, it was off to the framers' who cut a matte that overlapped the circumference of the mandala by a spare 1/16 of a inch. I chose a bright white matte and a simple black frame. To the back of the framed mandala, we attached a legend so Mrs Clark could see which mandala piece belongs to which student (hence the usefulness of keeping kids and pie pieces straight from the get-go).

The result is, well, pretty spectacular... or at least, we think so...


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Foothills Young Authors' Conference 2010

Another great Saturday spent with a couple of excited groups of Grades 4s and 5s, this time in High River, Alberta. The Foothills Young Authors' Conference is held annually at this time of year, and they always snag great keynote speakers. Thanks to all the organizers and sponsors of this event-- all the kids I talked to had a great time.

Kenneth Oppel came out from Toronto to attend this year's FYAC, and the line-up of kids wanting his autograph snaked back and forth around Centre Court at Highwood High School about half a dozen times. Some of the other great presenters I got a chance to rub shoulders with were Simon Rose, Hazel Hutchins, illustrator Derek Mah, BC writer John Wilson, Valerie Walker, Mar'ce Merrell, Donna MacNaughton and Jacqueline Guest.

My session was called The Art of the Picture Book, where I discussed how to tackle the job of illustrating a story-- the editing process, breaking copy into pages, pacing, page formatting, text placement, cover design, character consistency... all that good kind of stuff.

The kids' hands-on exercise was to illustrate a page based on copy borrowed from a scene in James Marshall's George and Martha (remember the one where George pours Martha's split-pea soup into his loafers?).

I put the copy up on the Smartboard, and let them go at it, reminding them that they had to plan for where the copy would sit on the page.

After they'd completed their illustrations, we compared and contrasted them with their classmates, and discussed their rationales. Most depicted George and Martha as humans, but there were also some aliens, dogs and amphibians.

I then showed them how Marshall had in fact depicted this scene, and since most kids (okay, none) weren't familiar with the story, none knew how he'd done it.

And none of them knew that the couple were hippos. Surprise!

See you all next year!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sketch-Your-Pet at Monkeyshines Book Store

Another great day with a group of happy kids last weekend at one of Calgary's great independent bookstores -- Monkeyshines is the city's only kids-only bookstore.

Owner Sue Hill and I came up with the idea of holding a sketch-your-pet workshop (I do have some experience in the pet sketching department).

The poster advertising the event (see image at right) asked kids to bring in pictures of their favourite pets, which most did.

I was also ready with pictures of my own that kids could choose from -- I had at-hand a picture of bull dog, a beagle or two, a couple of cats, a ferret, a hamster, and a gerbil (sorry, no reptiles).

One girl had a picture of her pet hedgehog named Humphrey. I learned that Humphrey could only be handled with gloves on, and would only agree to being handled at nighttime. I didn't realize hedgehogs were so fussy -- they don't look it.

There were also horses, cats, dogs, and guinea pigs. Thankfully, no reptiles.

The workshop ran from 1 to 3 pm on a drop-in basis, and most of artists arrived right at 1 pm. I had drawing boards, cartridge paper, pencils and pencil crayons, and erasers. The bookstore has pillows, stools and a couple of chairs, and kids made themselves comfortable throughout the store. Overall, about 40 - 50 artists attended and some parents got into the act, too.

Sue brought out cookies and the day was made even better.

Thanks to everyone who turned out, and to everyone at Monkeyshines Books!

Val

Friday, January 29, 2010

A medieval galloping gourmet

I’m working on a fun picture book project at the moment that’s letting my mind wander into the middle ages.

Our protagonist is a giant (simply known as “Giant”), but he’s not your typical loud-mouthed, boorish giant. This is a giant of refined taste who knows how to hold his utensils properly, who uses a serviette and who is of a kindly nature. He doesn’t slurp, belch or break wind (at least not in good company), and is respectful of the help.

So, how to illustrate Giant... I really wanted to see him in classic giant clothing of the kind that we saw in books when we were kids, which contrasts nicely with all those qualities I mention in the previous paragraph. Perhaps a bit like Bob Homme's Friendly Giant from days of yore (the 1960s), who had that great chair for two to curl up in. But, our Giant has much more exaggerated features and is a foodie / gourmet to the extreme.

The story’s sidekick is a chef (simply known as “Chef”) who is significantly smaller than Giant. Chef’s a bit of a fusspot, a stickler for detail, a nervous Nellie, and truly wants the best for Giant.


I’m having a great time with the settings for our characters – I’ve been researching medieval kitchens, bedrooms, garderobes (but have left that image out), corridors, d├ęcor, tapestries, etc. etc. David Macaulay's "Castle" (1977) has been a wonderful reference source (that's where I learned abour garderobes).

Here’s what I’m thinking of for one of the bedroom scenes…


The book will be published by Your Nickel's Worth, and was penned by Saskatchewan author Heather Gatzke for the 10 year-old and under crowd.

It'll be out in 2010-- when the illustrator gets all the final art done...!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Interview with Jean Freeman, author of my latest book, “Where Does Your Cat Nap?”




Jean reading Family Literacy Fair at Marion McVeety School, Regina, Sask (right)






Q. Your latest book, “Where Does Your Cat Nap?” (WDYCN) has just come out. Can you tell us a little about it?

A. Some people have referred to it as a “sequel” to "Where Does Your Dog Sleep?", but WDYCN is actually a response to the many, many cat- lovers who demanded equal attention for their favorite pets, after we did “WDYDS?”

Because I’m a word person, the book was also inspired by the image conjured up by the term “cat nap”. (The rhymes in the cat book also spurred me to think about images like a n armadillo on a pillow, or a baboon on the moon, but those haven’t led to anything concrete. At least not yet!)

Q. Were you inspired by a particular cat? Or just the species in general?


A. The cats in the book were actually the brain children of my brilliant illustrator! My only direction, re: physical appearance, was that there should be many cats of many different kinds, rather than just one cat. I figured that way we could take some positive steps toward appeasing cat-lovers who wanted their pets to be in a book, and in fact it is working out that way. Book-buyers are saying “oh, the cat in the pot looks just like my Fluffy,” or “our cat is exactly like the one on the piano!”

The only complaints/regrets I get are that there are no black cats! I patiently explain that black cats are very difficult to draw with expression and character, so the grey cat on the fence is as close as we could come. (I’ve actually received the same comment about the dog book -- there are obviously a lot of black terriers out there who look exactly like the little dog -- except for the color!)

Q. Do you actually like cats?

A. I love them! (And I’d better, since my best friend is a cat person, and she insists that her friends should love cats too!!) When I was a teenager, we had a cat who liked to run up and down the keys on the piano while the family was sleeping, making strange Music In The Night -- and also loved to sit on my chest while I was asleep, to check out the strange noises I made. Many mornings I woke up with a furry paw investigating my open mouth!!

(For the record, I love dogs and horses too! I’m working on loving hamsters, since my granddaughter Tina is now a proud hamster owner!)

Q. Jean, you’re not just an author but an actress, too… what sort of acting gigs have you had?

A. I’ve always been a story-teller, which is what actors and writers do. I started out, as most people do, as a very small child, playing “make believe” with playmates. I quickly branched out into directing -- “You’ll be the mommy, and you put the baby in the dishpan for a bath, and you’re the daddy with glasses on and you put the dishes in on top of the baby because you can’t see him ....”

My first “starring role” in “legitimate -- sort of” theatre was as Mrs. Santa Claus in Grade Two. A fund-raiser for Jr. Red Cross! In later life, I wrote / directed / performed in shows for Little Theatre groups, church groups, High School, and youth groups.

In my “real life”, I worked in Radio and TV as a writer and producer, which led to on-air work and the opportunity to audition for some of the early movie production in Saskatchewan. “One-off” acting opportunities included roles in “Sleepwalking,” “The Greening of Ian Elliot,” “The Dinosaur Hunter,” “Painted Angels” and “Conquest” (You have to be careful about this title, however: there’s also a XXXX-rated ‘Conquest’ in the DVD stores. That’s not the one I was in!)

TV work included roles on “Incredible Story Studio,” “Mythquest,” a couple of scenes on “Little Mosque on the Prairies,” and 26 episodes of “Corner Gas,” where I played the mayor’s granny. I also do voice over work for commercials, documentaries and (I hope!) audiobooks.

I’ve written and directed many stage productions, but two favorites are probably the one created for Regina’s 90th anniversary, “Regina Revisited: or What’s a Nice City Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” and “Azoy Geht es” (“That’s the Way It Goes”) for Beth Jacob Synagogue, to celebrate 100 years of Jewish presence in Saskatchewan.

I’m currently sitting on several film scripts that I’m trying to pitch to producers -- “The Yellow Rose Bush” (a romance of prairie pioneer days), “The Curse of the Idle Eye” (a family comedy set in 1930s Saskatchewan)

Q. You and your illustrator (okay, that’s me we're talking about here…) have worked on two children’s books in the past two years, and you live in different cities – do you think this presents a challenge?

A. It’s worked remarkably well for me (and I hope for my illustrator too.) We know each other personally and correspond clearly and frequently by email. If we ever had a glitch that couldn’t be explained online, we would probably meet in person and thrash it out, but I can’t at the moment imagine what that might be.

The third part of the troika is our publisher, Heather Nickel of Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing. She is located in Regina, but works comfortably and competently with both Val and me via email. We three do meet in person from time to time, but mostly for fun and friendship. I’m sure that this “distance operation” wouldn’t work for everyone, but it is certainly working well for us. I can’t imagine two other people (experts in their fields) with whom I’d rather be doing this!!

Q Are you working on any new books right now?

A.I have a “pre-tweens” adventure book that I wrote before the picture books were ever dreamt of. It’s been sitting around for more than three decades (well, I wrote it for my kids when they were little!) and I’d like to have it see the light of day! It’s not a book that will have illustrations.

However, I do also have a couple of picture books in the mill -- “Do Trees Sneeze?” (written for my granddaughter -- one of the “Question” series, I guess!) and “I Can Make a Story” (not written yet. But I’m working on it!) (I’m actually also working on a “real” “grown-up” book, “Dear Diary! It’s Me Again!” But that’s a whole other story!!)

People ask how many books I plan to publish. My answer is always “I’ll keep on until I run out of money!” As a self-publishing author (even aided by the expertise of editor/publisher Heather) it’s not a money-making undertaking. Just breaking even is a major accomplishment for self-publishers! But how else could I have so much fun, and meet so many delightful people, old and young, doing something I love doing that’s not illegal, immoral or fattening?

Q. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Jean!

A. And thanks for asking me!