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Watch Me Work - Creating Characters: click for slide show & video

I come from cowboys and I come from Queens.

Let me explain.  My grandfather's saddle was stored in the basement of our house in Portland, Oregon.

I remember its leather smell and how it creaked when I straddled it.

These are his cowboy boots

My dad's job took us east when I was five,

and we lived in a hotel in New York City,

almost like Eloise, until we moved to

a garden apartment in Queens.

 

This is me, my mother and my illustrious brother, Tom Bloom who is also an artist.

In kindergarten, at P.S. 26, girls were not allowed to play with the blocks or trucks.  Can you imagine that?  My friends and brother and I built roads and villages for our Dinkey cars all the time.  We made up scenes and acted them out.  We made up games and stayed outside playing until the street lights came on or the Good Humor truck cruised by. We didn't get into much trouble because somebody's mother always knew what we kids were up to. Our neighbors came from China, Russia, England and France.

Some of them ended up in my book.

My family and I - one husband, two sons,

several combinations of cats and dogs,

have lived in the country in upstate NY

for 33 years or so, surrounded by trees

and weedy gardens.

I love traveling to schools and I love coming home to my messy desk.

I was an illustrator before I became a writer.  That's because I was scribbling and sketching when I was three and I didn't learn to write until I was in first grade.

My paintings from those days filled up the page with color and details - like the paintings in my books.  I spent a lot of time drawing, writing and making things. In 6th grade we had to write an autobiography and I ended mine with the hope that someday I would write and illustrate children’s books.  Even though my report cards said I was not working up to my potential, had a tendency to daydream and that my math grades could certainly use some improvement, I was lucky to have parents and teachers who encouraged me to keep being an artist.

 

And best of all, I went to an art college, Cooper Union,

where we painted, made sculptures and drew for four years.

Finally, many years after voicing my hope, I can say this

is my dream job where my work is my play

and my play is my work.

Now, as much as I love writing the story, drawing the pictures is like dessert.  My paintings are sprinkled with everyday details: you’ve probably noticed the mixing bowls, the notebooks, the untied shoelaces…The call and response of story and illustrations is my favorite challenge.  I get to show you who lives in this book and what their world looks like.  Actually it looks a little like mine.

Look in No Place for a Pig and you will find my mother’s desk, my brother’s kitchen, and the subway I rode each day to college.

My kids, who inspire me and keep me humble, appear in A Family for Jamie, The Bus for Us, and My Special Day at Third Street School, but not in Girls, A-Z. My cats show up all over the place.

Even my dogs make an appearance in Girls… and …Jamie.

Each book grows from a seed of truth.

Tess who is just starting school was based on a 5th grader, Alice, who always asked questions.

 

The escaping turtle is an old memory that I finally found a place for.

 

There are moments of truth in each book. For instance:

In The Bus for Us how can you tell that Gus is getting frustrated?  Why is Tess asking so many questions?

Can you tell who is who in Piggy Monday?

In Melissa Parkington’s Beautiful, Beautiful Hair, what do you imagine everyone’s thinking in the beauty parlor?

Maybe you recognize that look the polar bear gives the goose in A Splendid Friend, Indeed.  I think there is a little goose and a bit of bear in each of us!

 

When I’m writing or drawing, I feel like a detective, searching for clues or a chef concocting a tasty treat.  Each project offers a delicious new challenge.  I think I’m almost working up to my potential.

1.  Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and Webster’s

     New World Dictionary.

2.  Blues, greens and purples.

3.  Gardening, the Sunday Times crossword puzzle, building fairy

     tree-houses.

4.  A cowboy-fairytale-mystery.

4.  All my life.

5.  “Stepping stones and stumbling blocks differ only in their use.”

6.  My back yard, Cape Cod, Portland Oregon, in the

     presence of a friend.

7.  Garlic, ginger, basil, curry.

8.  “Look it up.”

9.  It’s A Wonderful Life and Lilo & Stitch.

10. All of Me and Chicken Run.