Snow in Calgary

Fall was transformed into winter as I flew to Calgary to participate in the Kaleidoscope Conference. Kaleidoscope is a great conference where school librarians and teachers meet to discuss and listen to authors and illustrators talking about their creative process, as well as their books as well and ways to promote the joy and desire to read to children. We heard Kathi Appelt, Avi, Marty Chan, Timothy Basil Ering, Richard Scrimger, Tololwa Mollel, to name a few; a wonderful palette of  inspiring writers. We all received our official white cowboy hats during the White Hat Ceremony, a very curious and special event that, to my knowledge, only exists in Calgary.

I had also been asked to create the Kaleidoscope poster with the theme "twisting the lens", or how new technologies, digital formats, e-books, the internet, apps, and electronic devices are changing the literary landscape by creating new and different pictures as you 'twist the lens'.

Here is an excerpt of my keynote presentation that described, in part, my thoughts and creative process to produce the Kaleidoscope Poster:

What goes on in a child's mind as he or she reads a book?

I think of how stories span the past and present. How they open windows to every part of the world. I think of the contemplative time that a child can enjoy while reading a book; an all-absorbing timelessness that evolves from quietly making connections between words and pictures, recognizing emotions and feelings, identifying with humans, animals or trees.

A time when the child doesn't have to do something - push a button, click a mouse, touch a screen! The child only has to turn pages and immerse himself in another world, following his own rythm of understanding, of absorption. He is not being bombarded by frenetic, insistant music, images and non-stop action. There are no hyperlinks that invite a distraction. The child is in control.

A book is a place of refuge, of discovery of one's self.

 Finally, I think that throughout this whirlwind of change, this period of transition, of multiplied and varied reading platforms, one thing would remain the same: children, and adults for that matter, would always need and love and hunger for stories.

 And it will always be up to the creators to give them this opportunity to nourish their minds and souls.

So from sketch to sketch, and with these thoughts and images in mind, I created this timeless, ageless child, who is 'reading' and absorbing the world. Words dance in his mind connecting with images, the past becomes part of his present and flows into the future. The child's thoughts and feelings find a space to wander and explore between the art and the words. He sees the world through his own lens and he can twist it as fast or as slowly as he wants. He can stop and delight in that particular moment,

The child becomes part of the universe.

Kaleidoscope Poster

A Tree Full of Stories (voir ci-dessous Un arbre qui raconte)

Last fall, I was approached by The Jewish Public Library of Montreal to create a permanent signage for their Children's Library. They wanted an image that would underline the importance of a children's library, entice children to enter and celebrate the joy of reading. The illustration would be enlarged and printed on three vertical banners and hung at the entrance to the Norman Berman Children's Library. I have often been invited to give many talks at this wonderful, pro-active, community-oriented library, from presenting at their huge Young Author's Conference to more intimate talks for their  Mother-Daughter Book Club. I have always been impressed by the dedication and energy of the librarians who work there. I wanted to represent this energy with a dynamic, vibrant, colourful image. I also wanted it to be playful and humorous. Libraries are full to the brim with stories, so my illustration had to tell a story. I wanted children to stop and immerse themselves in my picture, "reading" it in the smallest details . . .


MLG JPL poster

(click on the image to see a larger version)

Did you notice the little grinning boy wearing a cape and plucking a star from the sky?

What about the boy who should be flying a kite but is actually "flying" a book opened to the "How to Build a Kite" page? Did you see Shelley the Turtle (a much loved resident of the Library), reading Shelley, A Turtle's Life? Or the young girl reading Romeo and Juliet just above a leaf that spells amour?

Books are full of words, so I also decided that I would draw words in the picture in English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish. (I must admit I did have to ask for help with the Hebrew and Yiddish.) I drew the illustration in pencil, painted in watercolour and working with handmade Japanese paper, cut out and painstakingly glued every one of the leaves!

I  realize that this is exactly the way I work when I create the illustrations for my books: details and substories abound, every character and animal or object has a role . . .

I think this is the way very young children see the world. Everything has a story to tell.

Un arbre qui raconte...

L'automne dernier, la Bibliothèque publique juive m'a proposé de créer une illustration pour la Bibliothèque des enfants Norman Berman. Ils voulaient une image qui soulignerait l'importance d'une bibliothèque pour enfants, une image qui capterait immédiatement l'intérêt des enfants et qui célèbrerait la joie de lire. Cette illustration serait agrandie et imprimée sur trois bannières verticales et serait placée à l'entrée de la bibliothèque.

Au fil des ans, j'ai souvent été invitée à lire et à faire de présentations dans cette  merveilleuse bibliothèque très active et dynamique. J'ai donné des ateliers lors de leur Conférence pour jeunes auteurs ainsi que des présentations plus intimes au Club de lecture Mère-Fille. J'ai été impressionné par l'énergie et le dévouement des bibliothécaires qui y travaillent. J'ai voulu représenter cette énergie par une image colorée et vibrante. J'ai voulu que mon illustration soit drôle et fantaisiste. Les bibliothèques sont remplies d'histoires alors mon dessin devait raconter une histoire... ou plusieurs. Je voulais que les enfants plongent dans mon dessin et qu'ils le lisent dans ses plus petits détails.

Avez-vous remarqué le petit bonhomme souriant qui cueille une étoile du haut de l'arbre? Ou la jeune fille qui lit Romeo et Juliette perchée au-dessus d'une feuille où s'inscrit le mot 'amour'? La famille de lapins-lecteurs? Autant de petites histoires . . .

Les livres sont pleins de beaux mots, de mots étranges ou de mots qui piquent notre curiosité, j'ai donc décidé d'inscrire des mots sur les feuilles de l'arbre en anglais, français, hébreu et yiddish. Mon illustration a été crée à l'aquarelle et au crayon. En travaillant avec du papier japonais fait-main j'ai découpé et collé chaque feuille de cet immense arbre.

Des heures de travail.

En fait, je travaille de la même manière lorsque je crée les illustrations de mes livres. Elles débordent de détails et petites histoires complices des enfants. Chaque personnage, chaque animal, chaque objet ont un rôle. Tous racontent une histoire. Je crois que c'est ainsi que les enfants voient le monde. Qui sait?

Girl on cloud

This August, CARAMBA will meet his new baby brother, HENRY!

“. . . Caramba had always wished for a brother. A brother he could go fishing with. A brother to collect caterpillars with. A brother who would love his cheese omelets A brother who would share all his secrets. But Caramba never imagined a brother like Henry . . .”

Caramba and Henry Back Cover

Caramba is in for a big surprise . . . But, while we wait for the arrival of my new book Caramba and Henry, I thought it would be interesting to look at a short animation of Caramba’s attempts to fly in the first book as well as the swooping and loop-de-looping antics of Caramba’s friends . . .

I also want to thank all the inventive and enthusiastic first grade teachers and librarians across Canada who enjoyed reading Caramba with their students and created drawing and writing projects to extend the pleasure of reading…


A la fin de l’été, CARAMBA rencontrera son petit frère, HENRI!

“. . . Caramba a toujours rêvé d’avoir un petit frère. Un petit frère qu’il emmènerait à la pêche. Un petit frère qui chercherait des chenilles de toutes les couleurs avec lui.

Un petit frère qui adorerait ses omelettes au fromage et partagerait avec lui tous ses secrets. Mais jamais Caramba n’aurait pu imaginer un frère comme Henri . . .”


Il va sans dire que Caramba sera très surpris! . . . Mais en attendant de lire les aventures de Caramba et Henri, j’ai pensé qu’il serait intéressant de voir Caramba en action . . . (voir le petit vidéo ci-dessus)

Je tiens aussi à remercier les enseignant(e)s et bibliothècaires à travers le Canada qui ont lu Caramba avec leurs élèves de première année et ont su explorer les dessins et l’histoire en créant des projets fabuleux avec leurs élèves, prolongeant ainsi le plaisir de lire . . .


TD Book Giveaway Program

I was absolutely delighted and surprised to learn in the fall that my picture-book Caramba was chosen for the TD Grade One Book Giveaway Program. Imagine! My book would be given to every child in Canada who entered first grade last fall. Children living in Nunavut or Montreal, on the Magdelene Islands or the Queen Charlotte Islands, children in Inuvik or Great Whale. Children who speak French or English and others whose native language might be Cree or Ojibway, Mandarin, Tamul or Creole. In all, more than half a million children received my picture book, brought it back to their home and read it with their family. Who would have thought that my rather plump and worried little cat would travel from sea to sea without ever having learned to fly?

Then I had the pleasure of being invited to tour across Canada and meet with hundreds of enthusiastic Grade One children to promote the pleasure of reading, to read Caramba, sign their books and answer their questions. My tour started off in Ottawa at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, then off to Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton, Newmarket, London, Montreal and Moncton.

I would start my presentations by explaining how I wrote and illustrated Caramba:


How I was inspired by my very old, fat cat who has never managed to fly . . .


How I started sketching Caramba in pencil . . .

3-Caramba Esquisse couleur

then with a bit of colour . . .

How I rewrote the story dozens of times, how I created the storyboard, and finally created the artwork in watercolor and pencil . . . About a year’s worth of work.

Then I would read Caramba, which is the story about an ordinary, rather plump cat with soft fur and a long stripey tail. He has only one problem in his life: he is the only cat in the world who cannot fly. I would also show the kids how Caramba has traveled around the world.

4-Caramba chinois

His story is read in China . . .

5-Caramba serbe

. . . in Serbia . . .

6-Caramba japonais

. . . in Japan as well as in Brazil, Portugal, Holland and Germany.

Strangely enough, I met a lot of children during this tour that had never seen a flying cat! I know, I know, it is hard to believe.

One young boy at the Hamilton Public Library even told me:

We don’t have flying cats in our community.

Which started me thinking, have you seen any flying cats in your neighborhood? If you have, could you draw me a picture of one and send it to me?

I would love to show some of your drawings to the kids who haven’t seen a flying cat. Maybe that will convince them that they do exist . . .

>> Here's how to submit your child's artwork


* * *

Cet automne, j’ai été absolument ravie d’apprendre que mon livre Caramba avait été choisi pour le programme TD Un livre à moi! Pour le plaisir de lire.

Imaginez! Mon livre serait donné en cadeau à tous les enfants du Canada qui entreraient en première année en septembre… Des enfants du Nunavut ou de Montréal, des Îles-de-la-Madeleine ou des Îles-de-la-Reine-Charlotte, d’Inuvik ou de Tête-à-la-Baleine. Des enfants parlant français ou anglais, mais aussi d’autres ayant comme langue maternelle le cri, l’ojibway, le mandarin, le tamoul ou le créole.

En tout, plus d’un demi-million de petits ont pu rapporter mon livre illustré à la maison et lire Caramba avec leur famille. Qui aurait cru que mon petit chat grassouillet et inquiet voyagerait d’un océan à l’autre sans même savoir voler?

Par la suite, j’ai été invitée à voyager à travers le Canada pour rencontrer des centaines d’enfants enthousiastes par jour afin de promouvoir la lecture, de leur parler de mon album Caramba et de leur signer des dédicaces. Cette tournée a débuté à Ottawa au Musée de la civilisation et s’est poursuivie à Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton, Newmarket, London, Montréal et Moncton.

Je commençais ma présentation en leur expliquant comment j’avais écrit et illustré Caramba :

8-Caramba Esquisse mine

Inspirée par mon vieux chat Miro (voir sa photo ci-dessus), j’ai esquissé Caramba au crayon . . .

9-Caramba Esquisse couleur

puis avec mes pinceaux . . .

Ensuite, j’ai écrit et réécrit cette histoire des douzaines de fois et enfin, j’ai créé les illustrations à l’aquarelle et au crayon . . .

Puis, je lisais Caramba, l’histoire d’un petit chat tout à fait ordinaire, qui n’a qu’un problème dans la vie : il est le seul chat au monde qui ne sache pas voler . . .

Curieusement, lors de cette tournée, j’ai rencontré plusieurs enfants qui n’avaient jamais vu un chat volant!

Je sais, je sais, c’est à peine croyable. D’ailleurs, à la bibliothèque publique de Hamilton, un jeune garçon m’a même affirmé avec le plus grand sérieux du monde :

Nous n’avons pas de chats volants dans notre quartier.

Il ne me reste qu’à vous le demander : avez-vous des chats volants dans votre quartier? Si oui, pourriez-vous me les dessiner et me les faire parvenir? J’aimerais bien en montrer quelques-uns aux incrédules . . .



Marie-Louise Gay's books are available from your favourite wholesaler or bookstore.
Or visit Groundwood Books.