Karen Romano Young

From the desk: Doodlebug: My Novel in Doodles and Humanimal Doodles, a science comic in print and on the web.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I have been busy, really busy. I'm trying to get new book projects, both involving lots and lots of artwork, into shape to submit. I'm creating a logo for a new website by Lyn Pollard; it's about learning differences and it's called Different Doodles. (I'll post here when it goes up, but meanwhile you can check out Lyn's other site, Chalkydoodles). I've done some new Humanimal Doodles for Odyssey magazine. You can see the Alvinella doodle on my website. But also I've been dealing with blizzards, blackouts, birthdays, and Thanksgiving, teaching writing and doodling at libraries and schools around the state, and being on a panel (along with Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Natasha Friend, Sarah Darer Littman, and Esther Friesner), We were talking to a wonderful group of young adult librarians who are Connecticut Library Association members. Wow!

And also, good news: yesterday, Doodlebug won the Connecticut Book Award for children's writing. I'm thrilled -- and also excited to have gotten a signed copy of one of the children's illustration award-winning books, Chalk, by Bill Thomson, and to have finally gotten to talk to Wendell Minor about painting.

There is always a big part of me -- a really big, shy part -- that wishes to just sit and draw. It seems that all around me there are opportunities and invitations to draw, such as this one, sent to me by my brother Bill, who went to Pratt Institute, the art school, and saw this sign during a visit.

I'm looking forward to following up with some of the results of this. Check it out at Pratt's sketchbook site.

I've discovered some other amazing drawing going on around New York. For instance, did you hear about Christoph Niemann, who not only ran the New York Marathon, but doodled the whole time he did it? You can see his sketches in yesterday's New York Times magazine, and here.

And then there is Eric Molinsky, who is using his iPhone's Sketchbook ap to draw people he sees on the subway. There's a video about him, and he has a website with hundreds of his drawings, which look like some kind of crazy Maira Kalman wallpaper. Since having lost my power for two different weeks of this year and seen my work suffer from not being able to get on the interwebs, I got an iPhone. And next, I'm getting Sketchbook.

I'm surrounded by inspiration.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Hero

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. The movie is coming out soon; here's the trailer.

This book changed my attitude toward books, and made me realize that the way I think might actually be okay.

And, when I heard an interview with Brian, something he said changed my attitude toward my work, and made me realize that the way I feel when I'm working was maybe also okay.

If you haven't read this amazing book -- not just read it or flipped through it but looked at it and absorbed it and Brian's purpose start to finish -- I wish that you would give it a try.

When I began writing novels I found that I hardly ever wrote a scene longer than three pages, and I didn't quite understand why until my editor, Virginia Duncan, suggested that I envisioned my story as movie scenes. Yes -- I see it and hear it and my purpose in writing it is simply to make it move.

So I was fascinated to discover Hugo Cabret, a story whose illustrations reveal that Brian Selznick's vision is a movie and that, rather than only writing it down, he showed it in drawings intended to provide a similar view to that provided by a camera. Brian's pencil drawings deepen that view, making his story and its characters seem immediate, tangible, and deeply personal.

There's no direct connection between Brian's work and mine, other than the affirmation that someone who does things differently, staying faithful to his own way of seeing, can succeed, and can even expand the idea of how stories can be told.

In recent months I've been learning about transmedia storytelling -- using different digital and other modern media to involve people in stories in all kinds of ways, not only through reading. On Tuesday night at a meet up of Transmedia NYC, I heard Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion: How the Digitial Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories, Frank talked with Nathan Golding about zombies taking over Boston in the style of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds. And he showed examples of how people through history have feared what might happen if we got too deeply immersed in stories told through, say, reading, radio, and television. Now, once again, some are concerned that people experiencing stories through social networking, gaming, and other internet-based media may lose their grasp on reality.

My personal so-called transmedia focus is on using graphic elements such as comics and drawings and nonlinear, visual presentations of fiction and nonfiction. For me, Brian Selznick's work is an example of the fresh, new vision of what stories can be. And, though I'm nervous about what I'm doing, I remember something I heard Brian say to Horn Book editor Roger Sutton, and it soothes my spirit.

During the interview, on the floor at the American Library Association annual conference, Sutton asked Selznick how winning the Caldecott Award for Hugo Cabret had changed things for him. Selznick said that he had been terrified the whole time he was working on Hugo, sometimes fearing he couldn't go on. Now he realized that this terror was where he needed to be in his work, because that feeling assured him that he was pushing himself into new territory.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Birthday Doodle for Herbie Hippocampus

I'm a total fool for aquariums. It's the light. It's the fish. It's the smell. It's irresistible. I've been known to work

for aquariums free, or almost free, risking life, limb and reputation to get the ocean word out to the masses.

Gone are the days when I drove coolers full of live crabs around the state, bringing "touch tanks" to schools on behalf of the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Here are the days when I create Humanimal Doodles -- my graphic article/comic about animal science -- about work being done by people who work at aquariums.

Today's Doodling Desk doodle was created for Herbie Hippocampus, the official spokes-seahorse of Monterey Bay Aquarium, an objet d'amour for me since I wrote about it in my 1997 book, Guinness Record Breakers (now CHEAP at that link!) I've only gotten to visit once. There were people wearing crab and jellyfish costumes. There were sunfish (mola mola) in the deep ocean tank. And there were sea otters sunbathing in the kelp forest along the shore. Big sigh. I have to get back to California for some more doodling, and sunbathing, and strawberries...

But meanwhile, it's Herbie's birthday. So here's that doodle I promised you. Enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Doodle News and a New Doodle

A deep bow of gratitude to the many people who sent me the link to Sunni Brown's wonderful TED talk about the value of doodling.

"The incredible contribution of the doodle is that it engages all four of the learning modalities -- visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic -- simultaneously with the possibility of an emotional experience. That is a pretty solid contribution for a behavior equated with doing nothing. "

There's more about Sunni at The Doodle Revolution.

On Friday at Comic Con I met Trevor Mueller of Reading With Pictures. In partnership with Northwestern University, the Reading With Pictures folks, led by graphic artist Josh Elder, seek to bring comics into the classroom, and have put together an acclaimed sampler of comics.
I'm trying to find a way to get involved, maybe through Humanimal Doodles, because when one of my loves (science comics) gets crossed with another (schools) I get excited.

I'm excited to present a brand new Humanimal Doodle here -- the first of the school year published in Odyssey magazine. In an issue about addiction, it features lab mice -- and the discussion of whether and why they should be used in labs. I'm reporting on the response to those ethical questions, so please don't engage me in the debate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Doodling to Learn

I'm always looking for new work, especially these days when I'm stretching to find new ways to work: no longer "just" a writer, in recent years I've become a science writer and an illustrator, and even -- sort of -- a designer, by default, as real (i.e. employed) designers look at my dummy pages with an assurance, or horror, that they're best done by the brain that thunk 'em up.

Sometimes when I'm looking for new work I do up a little marketing thingy for myself, and I was preparing one of these, making it to help scientists better understand what I do when I interview them and turn them into the subjects of blogs or articles or Humanimal Doodles. I needed some pull-out quotes for the marketing thingy, so I asked Beth Lindstrom, the editor of Odyssey, the science magazine in which Humanimal Doodles appear regularly.

Along with saying other friendly things, Beth mentioned that she thought my science comic went along with the principles at work in Felice Frankel's Picturing to Learn project. I hadn't heard of Frankel and her work, so I went to look, and what I found seemed to affirm everything I've been trying to do lately -- from letting go of formal thinking (by this I mean purposeful, goal-oriented, organized thinking), to trusting your mind to take a concept you've been learning about and synthesize a new form -- a visual form -- for it (by this I mean a doodle, and so does Frankel), and to use this doodle as a show-and-tell for what you know as well as what you want to learn, and then to share the whole thing.

This links up with the work I've been doing this summer with my writing and drawing, thanks to Lynda Barry and Writing the Unthinkable (see my last post for links), practicing Lynda's methods for taking yourself out of your formal mind and into the dark waters of the less conscious, disorganized, deep-process part of your head. This is the place I try to take myself to as I write, draw, or design -- and what's coming out of my fingers (yes -- fingers, "the original digital equipment", much more than keyboard) has been different, interesting, and empowering.

Frankel proposes that, through doodling, people learning science target what they know, form it into pictures showing relationships, and set processes in motion. Through her classroom work she has shown that people shown doodles learn more, and has created a program to inspire students to create their own doodles. I'm hoping to learn more about her work.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer Doodling, Summer Not

Who's that girl with the glasses, the fuzzy dog, and the chicken pot pie? It's Marlys, protagonist of Lynda Barry's phenomenal comics.

Has it been nearly a month since I posted? Here are a few of the reasons why:

1. Finished revision of book dummy for a new book about ocean scientists called I Dive to the Bottom of the Ocean (and Come Back to Tell the Tale). My painting hand hurts.

2. Attended Lynda Barry's outstanding writing workshop Writing the Unthinkable at the Omega Institute, which is spectacularly lovely. And Lynda's my idol and guru, particularly for her amazing comics that you can see here. My writing hand hurts.

3. Completed new Humanimal Doodles about lab mice and hagfish. My doodling hand hurts!

How's your doodling hand? If it's not hurting too much, consider designing a Google Doodle -- that's one of those things they have on their opening page which I've written about before here.

Tomorrow, July 17, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is hosting a Family Day focused on doodling. Not only can you view the regional winners of the Google Doodle contest, you can try your (non-hurting) hand yourself. For more on this, click here.

Doodle on, dudes! I'm off to vacation, my sketchbook tucked under my arm. Among other art destinations: the Uffizi gallery in Florence... Ciao, belli. I'll be back soon

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Struggle

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer." -- Rainer Maria Rilke

This quote, scribbled on one of the hundreds of white unlined index cards that surround me, hangs over my desk. Once in a while when I pause long enough to just see what's in front of me, I notice and read it, and it never fails to jolt me into what passes for perspective around here.
Because I tend to be too frenetic to notice this card, last week I drew myself a more succinct message: Stop Struggling.

I made the Stop Struggling sign after my beloved yoga teacher Rebecca kept saying it during one of the hardest, hottest power vinyasa classes I've taken. Her notion, that there's an argument inside that doesn't have to be won, just bypassed, resonated -- as yoga often does -- with my work struggle. Cross that out. (I began to hit the delete button, but stopped myself: is this a Freudian slip or something more overt?) Maybe I need to think about why I refer to my work as a struggle! What should I call it instead: channeling yoga again, should I call it my work practice? Well, what if I did? Just for the sake of this post -- which comes at the start of a four-week planned work vortex -- I'll parse out that practice idea a bit.

To stick with the yoga parallel a little longer, I'll state that Rebecca refers to us all as yogis. That sounds a little high-fallutin' to me, but she contends that anyone who practices yoga is a yogi. Is this like saying that anyone who writes is a writer? Yes. And maybe that's the first step to any discipline (another telling word): if you do it, you're a doer of it, end of discussion. So maybe the first message is to take yourself seriously, and call it what it is. That is, call yourself a doer of what you do. Which makes me a yogi, and a doodler, and an artist, and a dog-walker, and a writer, and a goof-off.

Then there's the practice idea. With yoga this means I keep on showing up, keep on going, keep on doing it, keep trying to do it better. Same with writing. Imagine the sigh of inevitability I uttered when, in yoga class on Saturday, Rebecca quoted Stephen King when he defined writing as "ass in chair" time, and said yoga was "feet on mat" time.

Wait, all I need is my ass in the chair? No, but it's an absolutely vital expression of purpose. It's a lot easier for me to get my head into writing when my ass is already there, virtually impossible if it's not, unless I'm shouting dictation from across the room. As for yoga, it's impossible to practice if my feet aren't on the mat -- and yet, Rebecca says, the key to yoga is to keep breathing. Keep focusing on inhaling and exhaling, and from that point focus on the pose you're in, and nothing else. This sounds like Doctorow's quote about how writing is like driving at night: although you can only see as far as the headlights, you can get all the way home like that.

In the last few days, I've spent a lot of time listening to Clarence Clemons' music and reading tributes to his life and music with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I'm so grateful that my sister Kim took me to Massachusetts in summer 2009 to hear one of Clarence's last concerts with those folks. It was a joy. And it has been interesting to hear about some of Clarence's ambitions beyond that band: his acting experience, his own bands, his contribution to Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." From his example I see that even band nirvana wasn't enough for his spirit, and he continued struggling and striving in new directions right up to the end of his life.

Some of us just are that way. Feet on the mat. Ass in the chair. That's my aim today.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Coolest Place I've Ever Worked

Perfect timing: Robin Pulver and Rafe Martin both "shared" Paul Nicklen's amazing Ted Talk on their Facebook pages. In it, photographer Paul Nicklen describes his life growing up in the Arctic, and puts on an astonishing show of his work.

If you've been to the Arctic, the dramatic changes in the sea ice become an immediate and passionate concern, and Nicklen's Ted Talk shows why.

I can hardly believe that it's been a whole year since I set sail about the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, traveling with a group of scientists who were studying climate change. On June 15, 2010, we left Dutch Harbor, on the island of Unalaska in the Aleutians, and steamed north through the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea, crossing into the Arctic Circle. That makes me an honorary polar bear, according to sailors -- but, because I left the ship before the initiation ceremony, I don't have my special red hat.

For two weeks, I was part of this cruise, called ICESCAPE, trailing around behind the scientists as they researched at scores of stations in the open water and a dozen or so on the ice. The Healy is an icebreaker, using its weight and a combination of backing and ramming to make its way through the ice.

Yes, there was ice -- even at the summer solstice. But there was less ice than before, and many signs that the ecosystem that relied on ice was suffering. Tales were shared of walrus and polar bears marooned at sea or on dry land. And, as I tried to process what I was learning, I found myself drawing -- which often happens when I'm struggling emotionally. The result was the first of my Humanimal Doodles, the Walrus Doodle, which I'll reproduce here.

Don Perovich, one of the scientists studying the ice, gave us a visual of the ice situation by comparing the sea ice in 198o to the square footage of the continental 48 United States. Before our cruise last year, the reduced ice coverage in the Arctic amounted to everything east of the Mississippi, plus a lot more. As ice melts, the situation literally snowballs: since water absorbs heat, more open ocean means even more melting ice, and more open ocean... Paul Nicklen reports that the sea ice could break down completely within ten years. Climate change, already well-established, will continue.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hot to Work

That title: should it be Too Hot to Work ? Maybe. But I don't want it to be. I've got a new idea, or TWO new ideas, and I want to work on them, even though I don't have air conditioning, I'm surrounded by panting dogs, and I'm perspiring not so delicately.

I don't want the idea to cool. Don't want the heat to go out of it. Want it to keep on cooking, and don't want to just back-burner it and leave it to simmer.

Yes, those are some thermometer-oriented metaphors. Interesting, isn't it, that the level of vibration and resonance in an idea finds parallel in relative temperature?

So what are these two boiling, pot-lid jangling concepts I can't put down long enough to cool off, or should I say chill out?

One is the new graphic novel I'm working on, called Yeti and Yak. It's about a girl who's working on a graphic novel, when a character on her inspiration wall (something like Pinterest, which I have become quite pinterested in during the last few days) comes to life and insists on being put into the story. He's so desperate that she does his bidding -- and then has to deal with the consequences. Just sorting out the ramifications of my main character's action has kept my mind spinning for several months of drafting, and now that things are somewhat unraveled I'm working on weaving visuals into the story. I've decided that the visuals will be on two levels: one is the graphic novel my character is creating; the other is the character herself and her environment (which includes the guy in the picture on the wall...do you get why I've been spinning?) So one of this week's tasks has been to nail down the look of my main character herself. You can see my first efforts above and here.

The second idea? It's actually a major revision of an idea begun in rough form nearly two years ago. Unlike my new graphic novel, this book (whose title keeps changing, but it's about my journey to the deep sea in the little submarine Alvin) began with images, and when all the pictures were done, I did a draft of the writing. Now I see things differently, and I'm going back and rescanning all my art, rearranging it, rewriting it... I am inhaling this opportunity to do things over. Remember DO OVERS from games played as a kid? Because I'm midway through a writing project I can have as many DO OVERS as I want -- or as many as I can stand.

I'm off to grab a popsicle and work some more. I've discovered that time with unfinished ideas is kind of like play. And what's not cool about that?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Richard Scarry and other giants of doodling

Thanks to Grace Lin for pointing out that yesterday's Google Doodle honored the birthday of Richard Scarry.

My little brother Bill was born six years after me, and I spent a lot of my early years "reading" Richard Scarry to him. I've heard that some parents (or adult sibs, or whoever's doing the reading) would rather read something that has more words or story or something, but for Bill and me, Scarry was the bomb. Plenty of story there, and we made up our own words whenever necessary. We pored over the pages of tiny drawings, scoping the big picture but also looking closely to find the little accidents that were always happening in the details, as well as repeat characters such as Bugdozer, Bananas Gorilla, and my favorite, Lowly Worm. No wonder I'm good at finding Waldo. I learned about the visual story -- and scanning -- from Richard Scarry.

I've been thinking about Scarry and how he put together those big spreads of pictures, back in the day before Wacom boards and Adobe this-and-that. While googling (naturally) Scarry illustrations, I came up with this piece of art being offered for sale. It seems to be an early drawing (maybe a draft, or something from early in Scarry's career) about a bunny going to the doctor.

Those things flying through the air are band-aids -- all that might be required to fix a hurt bunny. I love thinking of Scarry sitting drawing those zillion band-aids, and wonder at the mind that created those giant spreads full of minutia. Yes, Scarry was brilliant at his drawings, but what I loved the most was the sense of humor that came through. Example: the pie faces in the book cover here:

Once in a while I revisit something I used to read and realize in one of my DUH moments that this old thing must have given me an AHA moment as a kid. As in "Aha! It's cool to be whacky and insane and smart all at once" -- like Scarry. And it wasn't an easy trick, either -- take it from someone who has tried.

Thanks to Google for encouraging Scarry's kind of whacky, insane smarts -- through their ingenious logos. Some favorites of mind are here (for the 94th birthday of cartoonist Will Eisner)

here (for Japans' Girls' Day celebration)

and here, my very favorite ever, for Jules Verne's birthday:

I appreciate Google's competitions because they encourage people to explore the visual side of a story or celebration. A wonderful writer friend, Debbie Duncan, sent me this link to a story about Matteo Lopez, the young doodler who won the Doodle 4 Google logo contest. May it inspire more doodling! Here's his winning logo:

Doodle on, dude!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Doodled Interview with Ben Hazell

To say that there are some amazing doodle artists and writers out there is an enormous understatement. In the nearly-a-year since Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles came out, I've done a stack of doodling workshops. And I've found that:
• Just about everybody has a picture or symbol or word or SOMETHING that they doodle over and over again.
• Although lots of people get in trouble for doodling in school, like Dodo does, most people seem to agree that doodling makes it easier for them to listen and focus.
• Kids love to discover the power of doodle-writing to tell their own stories or to help them illustrate their stories.

Today I'm happy to share with you page one of the doodle-written fantasy Zombie Unicorn by Ben Hazell, age 12, whose animations and comics are brilliant and beautifully drawn.

After reading Doodlebug, Ben took a shot at doodle-writing and came up with Zombie Unicorn. I interviewed him about this work, using doodle-writing to do so -- of course! Our interview follows, and at the end of this post, I'll put the rest of Zombie Unicorn.

Here's Ben's response:

And what are those two things?

I completely identify. I asked:

Ben doodled on:

I had a few favorite items in Zombie Unicorn:

I wanted to know what else Ben was working on.

He's got a lot going on, including:

We were both tankful to have had this doodled conversation:

Here's the rest of Zombie Unicorn. TOO. MUCH. GREATNESS. Thanks, Ben!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Good Little Snakes

Today's post is a story written long ago for my children, and resurrected today for reasons you can read about on Interesting Nonfiction for Kids, a blog written by 25 nonfiction authors, including me. An interesting situation arose in my barn office this morning, precipitating a change in the topic of my I.N.K. blog, and leading me to give my old park ranger friend Noonie a jingle. In my mind, she's an expert on snakes. In her mind, I'm sort of an idiot about snakes. Well, you can decide for yourself. I hope you'll check out both stories.


Aunt Noon was here, sleeping in the barn. It was June, hot out, and she opened the door to let the air through, and pinned up some sheets to make a mosquito net. It looked like something from Aladdin. That was Noon, always making something.
It's why she was here, actually; she was making things. She was going to paint a picture for Uncle DB and Aunty Anne. They had a picture she had painted once, of a cat in the snow in the moonlight near a barn. They had asked her to paint it, even though they had just imagined the scene; they hadn't had a real place in mind.
This time the did have a real place in mind. The second painting was to show the place where Yogi went swimming. That's what they had asked for. We all agreed it was the most beautiful place, by the reservoir under the reservoir under the pine trees that the owls lived in, with a steep slope down to the water. Years later, when we walked there with Rosie, after Yogi died, we could still see Yogi in our mind's eye, lumbering down the hill to wade into the water, and we'd remember stopping to rest a minute here near the end of the walk, breathing hard, our hands on our hips, watching for the moment when Yogi walked deep enough into the water to suddenly start floating. The look on his face was what we loved -- he looked so relaxed and happy.
We kids had to go to school and Mom and Dad had to work, so we gave Noon directions so she could walk through the woods to get to the place where Yogi went swimming. Just to be sure, Yogi went along with her. She had her camera so she could take pictures of him, too. He saw going to be a swimming model dog.
When we all came back, there was no sign of Aunt Noon or Yogi. But this was what was on the dining room table: a cat food jug, made of white plastic. On the outside, in Sharpie, snakes and grass had been drawn along with messages:

SNAKES! Beware!!

We all watched each other see it. Nobody went near. What would YOU do with a cat food jug that said it had snakes inside: rush over and open it?
Mom unscrewed the lid, to prove to us kids that you shouldn't be freaked out by such things: plus, just in case the snakes came sizzling out of there like rockets, she wanted to be the one to get attacked, not us. (Sam says, "How heroic of you, Mom." But it is true! She's the one who bravely opened it!)
The snakes did not attack. They lay in a relaxed way along the bottom of the jug, fitting into the little grooves at the corners. There was some grass in there that Aunt Noon had added for the comfort of the snakes, and they were exactly the color of the grass.
There were holes in the lid of the jug, but it was pretty hot out, and we wondered if the snakes feeling a little bit limp from the heat.
"Leave the lid off," someone suggested. At least that's what Mom said happened afterward. She doesn't exactly remember WHO said it, and Bethany says that's because nobody actually suggested it to her; she suggested it herself, then tried to blame us for what happened afterward. "Way to pass the buck, Mom," said Emily.
She's the one who left the lid off. Those little snakes couldn't possibly climb up the sides of the slick plastic jug, that's what we thought. (We say it was Mom who thought it, not us.) She left the whole thing on the piano, where it was out of the sun. We all wandered away after a few checking sort of looks inside -- fewer from Bethany than from anyone else.
So guess what, big surprise, Aunt Noon came home all gaga and excited. "Did you find the wonderful snakes I left for you?"
"Yes," we said from the living room and kitchen and upstairs. "They're on the piano," we added. Nobody but the snakes was still in the dining room.
There was a second while Noon looked around. "With the lid off?" she said.
Uh-oh. UH-OH.
"There's only one in here," said Aunt Noon. "Has somebody got the other one?"
"As if," said Emily from the living room.
"I left the lid off," said Mom from the kitchen. "It's so hot. They couldn't climb out, could they?"
"Well, I think they might have," said Noon.
In we came, but not all the way in, from the living room and kitchen and upstairs. We stood near the dining room doorway and stuck out necks in. "Where could it have gone?" we asked.
"You have to think like a snake," said Noon. "You're in a big, bright, bare place. You like to be in a dark, protected place. What would be a cozy nook if you were a snake?"
"Oh!" Mom sighed, or whined, or almost moaned. It was a combination of sounds. We all looked at the piano. We had all seen it opened up and taken apart; Lenny the piano tuna had been here only a couple of weeks ago. We all knew the piano had more cozy nooks than you could count. At least there weren't snakes in all the cozy nooks, just one. But which one?
Oh, how gingerly and jittery we felt as we lifted the lid to the keys, but a glance showed no garter snake curled up on the keys. Darker and cozier nooks, then. We peered behind the music prop, where a velvet-lined groove would have made a good snake bed. Nope, no snake.
With dread we lifted the lid that led to the inner workings, the strings and hammers where a snake really could disappear forever. It wasn't reassuring not to see a snake there, not one bit reassuring, since the snake could so easily be hiding and might never be found until the next time Lenny came back to tune the piano. Poor Lenny! And what would the snake eat and do in the meantime?
"It could die in there," said Sam.
"Of starvation?" asked Emily.
"Or suffocation?" asked Bethany.
Hmm. Aunt Noon said, "Is the piano on wheels?" The piano was on wheels, so we all muscled in and pushed it out from the wall, letting Noon be the one to look behind it and see if a little green snake would be uncovered.
"One more foot," said Noon. We pushed again.
"Aww," said Noon. "Will you look at that?"
There, curled in the space at the back of the piano, down near the floor -- as dark and cozy a nook as it had been able to find -- was the little green garter snake.
"Poor baby," said Noon.
We all took a step back as she reached in to lift it out.
"Ouch!" said Noon. "He's chomping me!"
That was for sure. The snake's jaws were wide open, clamped on her thumb. That's how little its head was.
"Doesn't it hurt?" asked Emily.
"That little mouth?" said Noon. "Silly, he thinks he can swallow me." That was a laugh!
"Not poisonous?" asked Sam.
"Garter snakes are harmless," said wise Bethany, but she was standing the farthest away, and her eyes were the biggest.
"Stop doing that," Noon told the snake.
"Can't you shake him off?" asked Sam.
"If I hold still, he might think I'm dead and let go," said Noon. "If I shake he'll keep trying to eat me."
This was the way it was with our Aunt Noon. She said the most outstanding things!
"Who wants to come with me to take them back to the woods?" asked Noon.
We all went along with her, except Dad. "I will trust the rest of you to do it," said Dad.
Noon cradled the snakes together in her hands, letting them wrap around her wrists like Mom's silver bracelets. When we got to the place where Yogi swam, Noon bent down and let the snakes go in the grass. Bethany held Yogi's collar so he wouldn't get involved.
"They were mating when I found them," said Noon.
"Ew," said Bethany. "How do you know?"
"All the grass was waving. That's how I knew somebody was there. All that motion!" If you found snakes mating with lots of motion, would you pick them up and take them home? We wouldn't either. But that's Aunt Noon for you.
"You carried them all the way back from from here?" asked Emily.
"Sure!" said Aunt Noon.
"What did Yogi say about it?" asked Sam.
"Oh, he was all for it," said Noon. "He knew you all needed to see some good little snakes."
"Dad didn't need to see them, " said Bethany. "Neither did I, really."
"Well, there are some people who can't take snakes," said Noon coolly.
"Not us," we all said, even Bethany.

And here's a picture of Noon herself, in one of her natural habitats:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Look Inside My High School Journal . . . and Beyond!

This collaged notebook represents a watershed moment in my writing life.
Nowadays it's not unusual for teachers to have kids write journals. But in 1977, when I took three English classes at once and two of them required journals, it was very new. (I'm hoping one of my teachers will comment on this post and say what the thinking was.) I was a high school senior with a scary scientific paper term project (another assignment that had a major impact on my future writing and interests), trigonometry to survive, and lots of other senior-type things to do, so I asked the two teachers to let me write one journal that they both could read and grade.
I wasn't worried about the journal writing, just didn't want to have to write two journals. I had kept a diary since I was nine, and was a regular journaler. Sometimes I shared sentences or paragraphs of what I'd written with my aunt (just a year older than me), who also journaled. But this was the first time I'd ever written something that I knew for certain would be read by somebody else.

Mainly the journals were read for quantity; we had to write a certain number of entries, and one of the teachers (not the one I hope will comment) really seemed to just check it off. But under the eyes of the other teacher, Fran Kondziela, my writing bloomed and took off. A theater director as well as an English teacher, she was quick to point out that I needed an audience. Now, isn't that an interesting thing to find out about yourself? It makes sense, I guess. Like many who aren't physically confident, loathe getting up on a stage, and have palpitations about public speaking, I became a writer because I needed to express myself. Who was reading? Nobody -- until Ms. K.

My journal, Ms. K's comment

And that wasn't all: my writing improved when I had feedback, not just approval, from someone else. Ms. K. posed questions and made comments in my margins, and that led me to better, clearer, more thoughtful writing. Looking back at it, I also notice that I was forever drawing and doodling. Here's one example, J.R.R. Tolkien, from the back of my copy of The Two Towers.

Doodle: Tolkien and his ear

As ever, journaling has enormous value for me as a writer and as a human. It's fun and funny and educational to look back on the things I was worried about when I was 17, or 32, or 47. It helps me to see straight into those days as if I had a telescope taking the long view back into the dots on my personal timeline. So much is there, from the music I was listening to (and going to concerts of such as, in 1977, Eric Carmen, Loggins and Messina, and Peter Frampton).

I don't share my journal entries anymore, preferring to keep them private. But the journal begun for high school English in the spring of '77 taught me the value of working with a trusted reader or writing partner, someone who would confirm what was good and question what was questionable.

Nowadays I rely on the response of other writers, artists, editors, my agent, and my children.
For several years, I worked with a novels-only writing group that devoted hours and hours to each other's work -- and from which some truly beautiful novels emerged, and continue to emerge even though we have disbanded.

Without the responses of my daughter Emily and author/illustrator friend Katie Davis, Doodlebug would never have come to be, and writer/editor Ann Downer provides invaluable input about my Humanimal Doodles.

I've got to get to work, I really do. I've got a new writing partner, Gail Carson Levine, and she's expecting a new installment of the semi-graphic novel I'm working on. I'm inspired by the masterful revisions Gail has been doing on her own novel chapters, and reminded once again how important it is to have an audience that listens well, makes comments, and tries to follow my sketchy plots.

Sometimes it's difficult. Every time Gail and I meet she asks me a question that causes me to drop my head right onto the table in dismay -- something I'd blanked on, not thought of, done wrong, not considered. It's not easy, this writing job! But then I think of a possible answer, and Gail shakes her head, I think of another and Gail tilts her head to one side, considering. We talk about it a while. And then I get back to work.

Counting my blessings here, I'm very grateful. And that includes Peter Frampton.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Most Wonderful People in the World

At yesterday's Connecticut Book Festival, we talked about finding your doodling i.d. -- your icon doodle -- such as these I created for Doodlebug and Cootie Catcher, the main characters in Doodlebug.

For me, the most wonderful people in the world are those who love stories -- whether the stories are told in words or pictures or both, whether the people are adults or kids (or both?), and whether they draw or write themselves, or not.

Yesterday, at the first of what I hope are many Connecticut Book Festivals, I had a chance to meet such people. They included adults and kids (such as Sadie, who was one of the winners about the Letters About Literature competition), artists and writers, including the very wonderful Tony Abbott. And they seemed happy to be hearing about stories such as Doodlebug and my Humanimal Doodles, which are told in writing and in doodles.

One of the things we got to talking about was the trend in children's literature toward books told in a variety of visual styles. I mentioned Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Popularity Papers, and Middle School Is Even Worse Than Meatloaf. We also talked about the increasing recognition of doodling as a way some people learn (like me). And, if I'd only had time, I would have liked to share a few doodlers and doodling sites I've recently discovered.

• One comes from Carolina Pedraza, who used to be the head of youth and family programs at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Connecticut. I worked with Carolina to broaden the reach of the Draw On! program in our area. Now Carolina has gone on to use her art in news ways you can learn about at Wacky Shorts.

• Another great doodling destination is Wendy McNaughton's comic Meanwhile, The San Francisco Public Library, at The Rumpus. I'll race you over there, as I'm eager to find out more about it, but have already been soaking up Wendy's terrific drawings, which serve as visual proof of the immense value of libraries to the communities they serve.

• Do you know about the incredible art people have been doing in their Moleskines? Start googling Moleskine art and you will be astonished. For example, see if you can view this video that Paula Scher made of the fonts she invented in her Moleskine (the daisy petals are my favorite -- so simple and great-looking) without wanting to run out and buy your own Moleskine and doodle your own groovy new font. (Thanks to Judith Schwartz for posting this!)

• F'inally, do you know that children's book artists are auctioning their doodles and other art? Visit this one, in which Paul O. Zelinsky draws young authors John Green, David Levithan, Libba Bray and E. Lockhart (along with her character Stingray from the adorable Toys Go Out). This large, fine silent auction will benefit the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and will take place online and at this week's BEA (Book Expo of America). You can find out more about it here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A first for Connecticut, and me.

The Connecticut Book Festival, the first ever state book festival, which will take place this coming weekend, May 21 - 22, at the University of Connecticut's Greater Hartford Campus. The rain will stop, the sun will shine, owls will flap their wings in delight, and book people of all feathers will arrive to celebrate reading, writing, illustration, and yes, doodling.

The event's organizer, Kat Lyons, former director of the Connecticut Center for the Book, expects 10,000 people for the first Connecticut Book Festival, which makes me supremely happy, because I love books, but also gives me nervous butterflies in my stomach, because I'm going to be there to read from and talk about Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles.

Just to clarify: there is also a Connecticut Children's Book Fair, organized by the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in November 2010. But this new festival is set up to bring together readers and authors of books for adults and teens -- and there will be children's events, too. As a young adult author, I think this is an interesting shift. As far as publishing goes, young adult books are generally part of children's books, and are stocked near children's books in bookstores. But they are often shelved completely separately in libraries (on a separate floor in my home library, the Bethel Public Library).

So what's going to be going on? Here's just a taste:
• FOOD (often food is last on the list, but let's get serious, okay?)
• Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True, and other novels. He's incredible, and I have shaken his hand.) Here's a profile of him on Teen Reads.
Wendell Minor, the only illustrator I've ever known to have his own billboard. Wendell's work is so beautiful. One of my favorites is this polar bear.
• A journal-making workshop led by the Amistad Center for Art and Culture (I encourage doodling in journals.)
• "Ink Passion," a performance by dancEnlight. (Having frequently done ink dances myself, I am intrigued.)

The Hartford Advocate published a complete discussion of the festival here, and I'd also like to refer you to Caragh O'Brien's blog. If you don't know Caragh's young adult Birthmarked trilogy, you should. And you'll have a chance when she takes part in a panel of young adult authors at the book festival this Sunday at 3:30.

Caragh's blog includes a picture from the lunch she and I shared with Kat Lyons and Billie Levy after Billie hosted us on her television show Children's Books: Their Creators and Collectors, where Kat, Caragh, and I talked about our work and shared our anticipation of the Connecticut Book Festival.
I'll be at the festival on Sunday, reading from Doodlebug at 2, and signing (and doodling on) books afterward. Please come find me! (If anything calms the butterflies, it's smiling faces. )
And if you're wondering how I'm going to read from a book that's done in doodles, you'll have to come find out. There's a giant book -- and some giant doodles -- involved.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Electrifying News About Humanimal Doodles

It's a rainy Sunday here at the Doodling Desk -- all the more reason to share the sunny, newest Humanimal Doodle in print, the Vespa Doodle. As with all my Humanimal Doodles, this one, just published in Odyssey magazine's May issue, covers news about what people are learning from animals -- in this case Vespa orientalis (that's its page at the Encyclopedia of Life, where eventually every known species will have its own page). Vespa orientalis is the Oriental hornet (or wasp). Scientists have discovered that its body acts as a little solar cell, turning sunshine into electricity.

But you know me: just say the name of a wheeled vehicle and I'm likely to drop it into whatever I'm writing or drawing. So of course when I realized that the source of the name for those nifty little motor scooters you see in European cities (and once in a while in New York or Boston or Bethel, Connecticut) was the Latin word for wasp, I jumped right on it -- on the doodling, of course, not the Vespa, alas. (I'd like a robin's egg blue one, although the orange one in that link is sweet.) I plopped a scooter right into the doodle. For me, that's part of the fun of doodling for me -- the freedom to free-associate in pictures.

I've been doing these Humanimal Doodles for almost a year now, since posting the Walrus Doodle during a trip to the Arctic Ocean. They've appeared in print and on the web (as on the World Wildlife Fund site in that Walrus Doodle link.) The Vespa Doodle is the sixth one that has appeared in Odyssey. In the works: doodles about mitten crabs, Alvin the submarine, and laboratory mice.

Here's the Vespa Doodle:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Come On In!

From my desk in the window of my little house in the woods, I can see the pine tree in the front yard, which has a door nestled among the roots. My mother gave this door to me. This is typical, because she's the one who taught me to be whimsical, to anthropomorphize, to envision that door opening on a pine-scented spiral stairway that leads up the tree to the doodling workshop where I might sit, pen in hand, drawing stories, doodling pictures, writing text by hand, making up my own fonts.

Like the door to the pine tree, doodles may seem to be whimsical, unrealistic, the product of an overactive imagination. But, in the year since I began publishing them, I've realized the power of doodles.

I get doodle power from children who attend my doodling workshops -- such as the ones I did for the GRLS program in Boston last weekend -- who try out the black finepoint and gray brushpoint pens I give them, drawing constantly, telling their stories, lifting their heads only in curiosity about the pictures I'm creating as I tell them my own stories.

I get doodle power from the parents who tell me that my novel Doodlebug has gotten their kids reading at last, or that learning about my doodling has encouraged them in creating their own graphic stories.

I get doodle power from the teachers who tell me that my Humanimal Doodles have gotten their students talking about science - or arguing about, looking into, or trying their own science.

I get doodle power from the scientists who like how their stories are told, who comments and make suggestions and ask for more.

I get doodle power from the grownups who learned to read by reading comic books, and the librarians who recognize that any reading is good reading and the kids who realize that good reading doesn't have to be all typeset words.

I get doodle power from finding out how many other people -- just about all other people! -- doodle, and I love learning what they draw and why.

And this week I'm getting doodle power from National Doodle Day, tomorrow, May 12.  Neurofibramatosis, Inc., sponsors this celebration.  During their events this summer, they'll be giving away ten signed copies of Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles. For more about this, please click here.  

In this blog, I'll talk about some of my travels and experiences associated with creating and getting the word out about my doodles. And I'll talk about what's going on behind the workshop door, on the doodling desk.