Hello out there,
I just wanted to pop in and let you know Philip and Erin have created a little blog called Number Five Bus Presents where they will host conversations with fellow “book people” as they say. So far they’ve talked with Eric Rohmann, Cece Bell, Rebecca Stead and Julie Danielson with many more interesting folks to follow soon.

If you’ve already landed here, I really think you might enjoy it there too. Click here to check it out.

Happy summering,
The Blog Thief

Hello again! Your local blog thief here.

It seems things are heating up around here and I have many exciting events to tell you about these days. This time, I’m here to let you know both Philip and Erin will be speaking at the Fifth Annual Storymakers Dinner here in Ann Arbor. The dinner benefits 826michigan which happens to be one of the Steads’ favorite institutions in town and will take place on April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. They hope you will be able to join them to help make the event a success.

Space is limited so be sure to get your tickets soon! And, just so you feel extra welcomed, below is the invitation to the event. I think 826michigan is cool with blog thieves inviting people too.

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Just wanted to pop in and let you know Philip and Erin will be at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday, March 28 at 7 p.m. to help celebrate the store’s one year anniversary. (Hooray, Literati!)

The anniversary celebrations will continue all weekend and the Steads are very honored to be part of helping to celebrate books and independent bookstores. Beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday, the Steads will read and discuss many of their favorite obscure and semi-obscure children’s books which will also be made available for purchase by the store. Philip and Erin will also be happy to sign any of the books they have created should you wish to bring one along or pick one up at Literati.

Definitely stay updated with more information about Literati’s celebrations via their website and Facebook page. And, again, here is the information for Philip and Erin’s portion of the celebration:

Deep Cuts with Philip and Erin Stead
A night to celebrate little known children’s books that will make you laugh, cry, or scratch your head and wonder “Why?”

Friday, March 28, 2014
7 p.m.
Literati Bookstore
124 E. Washington Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

941330_182938581864394_1494886109_nphoto courtesy: Literati Bookstore

Hello and happy Friday to you! It’s a balmy 40ish degrees here in Michigan today which is downright warm compared to what we’re used to. In celebration, I bring you more sights from around the Steads’ studio.

Today, some progress Philip is making on his book! A blue horse:

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A happy looking Wednesday:

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The sun!

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Some shapes (which I’m positive are much more useful and vital to this project than my irreverent declaration that they are “some shapes”):

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And ducks!

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Also, I have a feeling this handy little tool will get some good use in Phil’s book:

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In Erin’s part of the studio, there are lots of colors (and I always think this looks like art all by itself):

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And much anticipation for exciting college basketball games (yes, there is a calendar in the studio dedicated to college basketball):

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Hope this finds you with something exciting to look forward to. Yours in peaceful blog thievery,

nicole
(The Blog Thief)

Hello out there,
I hope your year is off to a good start. Blog thievery has been a little slow so far this year because I didn’t want to take anything away from the Phildecott and Steadbery Award announcements. But I’ve been getting antsy so I’m back to take over.

There has been much happening around the studio and I had a feeling some of you might be interested in a few of the things I see and hear and (maybe sometimes) smell around here. So consider today the first of a not-so-regular-that-I-don’t-keep-you-on-your-toes series where I tell you about things happening in and around the studio.

Today, everyone was hard at work making art:

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On most days – but especially days when Philip and Erin are strictly devoted to art-making – the music streams from morning to night. Oftentimes one artist or one album dominates the day but today there was a wide variety covered. At the moment I chose to photograph “the music”, the Beatles were playing which seemed pretty appropriate given all the hubbub lately.

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You might wonder what a studio where much art is being made smells like. Well, I have a surprise for you. Today, it’s one part expected – the spray fixative on the left which Philip and Erin use to set their art once it’s finalized – and one part unexpected – the wintergreen essential oil on the right. Erin is using the oil for some transfer work on the book she is currently making and it’s been a delightful smell around the studio for the last few winter months. Think fresh trees during the part of winter where you’re still excited about winter smells.

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Speaking of winter, most things are white and brown outside in Michigan but both Philip and Erin have been hard at work selecting colors for their books. Erin’s selections:

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And Phil’s possibilities below. He was most excited about the yellow…said he wanted to frame just this Color-aid sample to contrast what’s going on outside. I have a feeling most of the country can relate, Phil.

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And here are a few photos of Phil’s current projects. A complete storyboard of one book:

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And some ideas coming together for another:

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And, last, one of Erin’s spreads coming along nicely in the evening light:

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Well, that’s all for today’s installment of studio sights and sounds and smells. I’ll be on the lookout for interesting things to share with you. In the meantime, I hope you can find some yellow in your lives to enjoy.

Cheers,
nicole
(The Blog Thief)

But first, a short essay on the finest piece of writing I’ve encountered in a long time, and the unlikely place in which I found it

From the Cluttered Desk of Philip Stead (with Erin sitting close by):

Before we begin I would like to tell you a little story. Last October Erin and I were asked to give a talk at the Nashville Book Festival. Public speaking has a way of agitating our already naturally nervous energies and so, after the presentation, we decided to take a walk around town, hoping eventually to stumble on a nice place to eat lunch. There were long waits at every place we passed and it wasn’t long before we were too hungry and too tired to keep searching. We ended up knee deep in an hour long wait for a table at a restaurant with a less than promising menu. Also, it was loud. Very loud. I do not love noise, and I am extremely impatient when hungry. These are not my best qualities. I needed to find some way to pass the time or risk pestering Erin to the brink of marital disaster. So I pulled out a paper I’d bought earlier that day, The Contributor.

The Contributor

The Contributor is a paper written and distributed primarily by Nashville’s homeless and formerly homeless population. Back in Ann Arbor, where we live, we’ve got a similar paper called Groundcover. I’m consistently amazed by the quality of content in Groundcover and I always try to pick up a copy when I pass a vendor. It’s more than worth the dollar it costs. The Contributor was similarly impressive. I started on page one and was able to effectively occupy my mind until our names were called. I was still reading when we sat down, and with the sounds of Hotel California blaring over the loudspeakers and the smell of LOCO BURGER and/or MILE HIGH NACHOS in the air, I turned to The Contributor‘s poetry section.

Unrelated Side Note: My local free form radio station, WCBN, once played Hotel California continuously during Pledge Week until someone called in with a pledge of $100 to make it stop. File that under: Genius Moves, subcategory, Clever Fundraising Strategies.

Anyhow, in the most unlikely of settings, and in the most unlikely of publications I stumbled on one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve ever seen.

This is what I read:

TONY

that was his name

he was such a

wonderful horse

and pulled a milk

truck

for Tom, the young

driver

Tom Jones

in the early hours of the

morning,

pulling the wagon loaded

with milk, butter,

and eggs,

Tony was all white,

large, sturdy,

with wide gentle eyes

and a ton of love,

he would wait patiently

while Tom jumped off the

wagon to put my

milk and eggs on

my doorstep,

it was early in the morning

around three a.m.,

but I was up, and would

go out and pat Tony with

my gentle arms, and

his head would bow down

and his eyes would glow

and Tom would say

nice to see you out so early,

sir,

and Tony always looks

for you too,

wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,

I would reply

sturdily,

giving Tony another pat,

he is such a wonderful

horse, and so handsome.

I am sure he heard

that, Tom would

smile widely,

as he got back into

the truck

and as they pulled away

I knew that Tony

did a little dance

-Ed Galing, Formerly Homeless Poet

Wow. The room went silent for me and I read it again:

TONY

that was his name

he was such a

wonderful horse

and pulled a milk

truck

for Tom, the young

driver

Tom Jones

in the early hours of the

morning,

pulling the wagon loaded

with milk, butter,

and eggs,

Tony was all white,

large, sturdy,

with wide gentle eyes

and a ton of love,

he would wait patiently

while Tom jumped off the

wagon to put my

milk and eggs on

my doorstep,

it was early in the morning

around three a.m.,

but I was up, and would

go out and pat Tony with

my gentle arms, and

his head would bow down

and his eyes would glow

and Tom would say

nice to see you out so early,

sir,

and Tony always looks

for you too,

wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,

I would reply

sturdily,

giving Tony another pat,

he is such a wonderful

horse, and so handsome.

I am sure he heard

that, Tom would

smile widely,

as he got back into

the truck

and as they pulled away

I knew that Tony

did a little dance

-Ed Galing, Formerly Homeless Poet

I really cannot understate the effect that this writing had on me. It was like the poem picked me up and spun me around, reorienting my whole self in space. This is, I suppose, exactly what great art ought to do.

In a few short lines TONY accomplishes everything that I try to achieve as writer, illustrator, and human being. I am still staggered by it. I would go on here, but I’ve always believed that writing about great art has the unintentional consequence of diminishing it in some way.

So I’ll shut up before I ruin it.

Somehow between Nashville and Ann Arbor I lost my copy of The Contributor. Nearly three months passed but I couldn’t get TONY out of my mind. It became important to me that I have a copy of that poem. And so, just a few weeks ago I wrote a short letter to the editor of The Contributor:

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I have a somewhat unusual request. Last October I was visiting Nashville from Michigan for the Book Festival. After I gave my talk I was walking through town when I encountered a vendor for The Contributor. I purchased a paper and tucked it away. Later that day I pulled the paper out while waiting for a table in a loud and crowded restaurant. I turned to the poetry section and was practically moved to tears by one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’d encountered in a long, long time. It was a simple poem about a boy waiting to greet a milk cart horse.

Unfortunately the paper was lost sometime during my travels back to Michigan. I am writing to you in hopes that you could send me a copy, either digital or physical, of the poem. If this is at all possible I would be very much appreciative.

Thank You, and Happy New Year.

Sincerely,

Philip Stead

Mr Anderson wrote me back right away:

Dear Mr. Stead,

Thank you so much for inquiring about the poem, “Tony.” I’m glad it touched you so deeply. The poet is one of our most prolific writers, and a dear friend to the staff of The Contributor, named Ed Galing. He passed away last month at the age of 96. I would be happy to send to you a hard copy of the Oct. 3-23, 2013, issue. However, please know I’d have to charge you $3 for the paper and postage — non-profit organization, shoestring budget, etc. Perhaps this free-of-charge snapshot from the page that poem appeared will suffice? Regardless, thank you so very much for reaching out. Knowing Ed’s words moved you is such welcome news during a time that our office is grieving his loss.

Sincerely from cold and snowy Nashville,

Skip Anderson

Editor, The Contributor

I hope that Ed Galing would forgive me my violation of his copyright as I print his poem here in its entirety. But today, MLK Day, seems like an appropriate time to share his work. This poem reminds me that there are beautiful things happening in the world that go unnoticed. I am thankful today for the work that The Contributor, Groundcover, and other similar publications do to give voice to otherwise unheard-from populations. It is important work, and it goes on way, WAY behind the scenes.  I am also thankful today for Ed Galing. I know very little about the man. But I do know that he left something lasting and important for us to remember him by. Something worth sharing. Every one of us should try and do the same.

P.S. Please consider making a small donation to The Contributor today. Small amounts go a long way for organizations like this, and the work they do is irreplaceable. Please visit: http://thecontributor.org/donate/

P.P.S. Ed Galing really was a prolific and gifted poet. Google search: “Ed Galing poetry” and you will be richly rewarded.

AND NOW TO THE AWARDS:

Before we begin I’d like to remind you (or introduce you) to why we do this. We published this disclaimer a few years back, and it is still very much relevant to how we feel today:

Every year for the last [five] years Erin and I have compiled a list of our favorite books of the year. The internet is overflowing with best-of lists and worst-of lists and everything in between. We don’t claim that the books on our list are the absolute “best-ofs” of [2013]. To be honest I’m not sure if it’s possible, or even productive, to limit books in that way. Books mean different things to different people. One book can mean drastically different things to the same person across the span of a lifetime. This does not diminish the power of books. It adds to their mystery. In assembling our list we’re merely trying to share the books that meant something special to us at this point in our lives. These are books that challenged us to be better writers and illustrators. There are hundreds of fantastic books that are released every year, many of which go unnoticed (including by us). That is the fault of chance or of Erin and I directly, not of the books themselves. Some books we failed to see. Some books we were not ready to see.

That pretty much sums it. We feel incredibly grateful to the authors and illustrators who worked to give us the books you see below. Each one of them, like Mr. Galing, has left something beautiful for us to ponder—something to pick us up, spin us around, and reorient our whole selves in space.

Cue drum roll…

The 5th Annual Phildecott Awards go to (in no specific order)….

Building Our House

Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean

Erin and I are both in awe of this book. It’s the kind of book that makes us excited all over again for the possibilities of picture book making. Jonathan Bean straddles a line here between fiction, non-fiction, and even personal essay. He does so with an effortless grace and an unwavering respect for the child reader.

Rosie's Magic Horse

Rosie’s Magic Horse, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake

My good friend, author/illustrator Matthew Cordell, first turned us on to this title. It’s no secret that Quentin Blake has been my favorite illustrator since the age of about six. At 81 years old Mr. Blake is still at the top of this game. This book is beautiful and weird in the best possible way. It’s apparent lightness is balanced by an unmistakable seriousness. The whole thing comes together into one of the most emotionally complex picture books you’re likely to find.

The Animal Book

The Animal Book, by Steve Jenkins

Oh, Steve Jenkins. This is not Steve’s first Phildecott, and I doubt it will be his last. If Erin and I could exchange one illustrator’s career for our own, it would probably be Steve’s. He just gets to steep himself in so much fantastic information. His work is always showing us that the natural world is stranger and more interesting than you could ever hope to imagine. This book is over 200 pages of amazing animal facts and figures, beautifully illustrated. It is the kind of book that certain kids will carry everywhere with them for years. Probably the most heavily used book at the Stead barn this year, it’s been sitting open on our coffee table for weeks.

This is Our House

This Is Our House, by Hyewon Yum

This is a book that we were lucky enough to see very early on, before publication. Like Ed’d poem, I’m hesitant to describe this book in too much detail. This book is poetry. I don’t just mean the words. I mean the entire experience. As a whole, word and image together, it achieves a certain kind of perfectness that is difficult to describe. It is a great work of art. And I am now going to shut up before I ruin it.

The Beginner's Guide to Running Away from Home

The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away, by Jennifer Larue Huget, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

Red Nose Studio, a.k.a. Chris Sickels is simply one of our favorite artists out there. He is a true original. He illustrates his books by making miniature scale models and beautifully photographing the results. His attention to detail is staggering. STAGGERING. There is one image from this book that comes to mind in particular. Mr. Sickels builds a cross-section of a house so that he can show you what each member of a family is doing at one time. What blew us away is that he actually thought to run wiring between the walls of his model house. Wow. He is a reminder to Erin and I that craft matters.

Rain!

Rain!, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson

We just love Christian Robinson. Everything he makes appeals to us. His work has a classic feel that still feels modern and original. He’s got one of the best senses of design out there amongst illustrators. He can simplify forms without losing any sense of playfulness or personality. We’re always excited to see what he’s got coming out next.

The Bear's Song

The Bear’s Song, by Benjamin Chaud

This book is just plain fun. It has the hide-and-seek element of a Where’s Waldo coupled with a narrative arc that keeps you turning the pages. This is the kind of book that is really, really difficult not to like.

Friends

Friends, by Eric Carle

Eric Carle has been making books for a long time. Because of that I think it’s easy to look past his new work, assuming that it’s just a rehash of work he’s already done in the past. Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. In my mind Mr. Carle is making some of his most interesting and original work now. Perhaps the problem is that he does it so effortlessly that we’re lulled into a misunderstanding of its complexity. Erin and I saw the original art for Friends at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art prior to its publication. We knew right away that we were seeing something really, really special. Midway through the book he shifts from a third person perspective into a first person perspective. If you’re wondering, this is a very unusual thing to do. In effect you, the reader, get to see directly through the eyes of the main character. The result is moving and memorable. This is a book that really changed our thinking. Thank you Eric Carle.

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle, by Chris Raschka

Well, it wouldn’t be a Phildecott list without at least one Chris Raschka book. Chris is a real artist’s artist. His books seems to come from a place that’s natural and free-flowing. He is the current reigning zen master of picture book art. Erin and I tend to beat ourselves and our artwork to a bloody pulp before turning it in to the publisher. I think in our minds we hope that someday our work will appear as natural as Chris’s. The struggle continues.

And now for the Steadbery’s

QUICK DISCLAIMER: This year we had a particularly difficult time keeping up with new long fiction titles. There are dozens and dozens of great books that I’m sure we completely missed. There is an unread stack next to my nightstand that proves as much. That said, this year’s Steadbery list is a bit non-traditional. But to put a positive spin on our poor reading habits, I think it’s good sometimes to shine a light on truly excellent writing found in alternative formats. Picture book writing and graphic novel writing are peculiar skills that take a long time to perfect and are generally underappreciated. Below are three texts that really knocked our socks off this year.

Again, drum roll please.

The 5th Annual Steadbery Awards go to (in no specific order)….

Poseidon

Poseidon, by George O’Connor

This is a text that really just floored me. Poseidon is the 5th in the excellent Olympians series following Zeus, Athena, Hera, and Hades. They are all extremely well done, but with Poseidon George takes the writing to a level best described as masterful. George is an old friend of ours. In fact, neither Erin or I would be published at all if it hadn’t been for George’s helping hand and big mouth. I read Poseidon in one sitting and then immediately texted George, saying this:

Poseidon is amazing. It’s the best piece of writing I’ve seen this year across all genres.

George wrote me back and said:

Stop being an idiot.

Well, George, I’ve got the last laugh now. Thanks for making something so great.

Bear and Bee

Bear and Bee, by Sergio Ruzzier

Sergio is another of our perennial favorite author/illustrators. Everything he makes we love. The art in this book is brilliant as usual, but it’s the text that really makes us want to write a fan letter. It is, in our humble opinion, the best picture book text of the year. There is not a word wasted. The characters are instantly real and believable, with hopes and fears both big and small. In addition, Bear and Bee features quite possibly the funniest single spread of the picture book year:
Bear and Bee - Inside

God, I just love that! Thanks a lot Sergio.
Rosie's Magic Horse

Rosie’s Magic Horse, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Lastly, we have Rosie again. As I mentioned earlier it was my friend, author/illustrator Matthew Cordell, that first let us know about this book. Later on in the year Erin was talking to another friend of ours, author Mac Barnett. Erin asked Mac if there were any picture book texts that really stood out to him. Rosie’s Magic Horse was right at the top of his list. I know our sample size is small, but evidence points to the fact that this book is a real treasure.

Well, that’s it for this year folks. Thanks for reading.

It’s been a great year for books.

Sincerely,

Phil (and Erin, too)