Of Pencils and Crayons

A drawing is simply a line going for a walk. – Paul Klee



Hindsight has brought me to the happy realization that there are so many books and authors that have shaped my thinking and living as a father, but there are only a handful that I can honestly say I remember with great detail from childhood all the way into fatherhood.  These are simply books that have always been a part of my life, from my earliest memories to this very week.  The “how-to-draw” books of Ed Emberley are in that handful.

I wouldn’t be surprised, especially if you grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, if you remember his name, too.  Scholastic didn’t have book fairs in school back then (the first was officially held in California in 1981), but I was like a kid in a candy store when I saw the teacher break out her stack of book order forms and start passing them out among the class.


I wanted nearly everything in those flyers, but if there was an Ed Emberley book listed…that is all I wanted.  I have most of his 13 books about children’s-style drawing, while his children’s books continue to inspire our daughters.  His newest, The Crocodile and the Scorpion, was created with his daughter, Rebecca, also an accomplished children’s writer and illustrator.


I was drawn to the Emberley books because I am not a natural artist.  Since I can’t really see something and then draw it in a way that makes much sense to anyone else, as a boy I was often left with drawing stick figures or tracing coloring book pages!  But after I received my first book by this great artist, that changed.  This is the kind of art I wanted to draw.  It is all about using shapes and lines and dashes and colors in a very simple step-by- step process to create fantastic stuff like dragons, spiders, boats, funny faces, bridges, buildings and on and on.  I was able to draw castles and plot out stories through these drawings and I loved every minute of it.  It finally allowed me to give some form to my thoughts.

Now that I am a father (especially when my daughters were younger), the kids often ask me to draw and color with them.  As soon as I introduced some of these books to them and we began creating these funny worlds together, they were hooked.  It also gave them the great feeling that they could indeed draw and that they are indeed artists. Books that do that are books worth having.

If you haven’t visited his website yet (www.edemberley.com), please do.  You will love it and your children will love it and, more importantly, when you show them how to draw some of the things that this gifted children’s artist teaches, you will be the rock star of the house!

Look at this Book – ‘Shrek!’

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique “recipe for fun” this week over on our Book Cook page…

 Shrek 1

Today’s great book:  Shrek! by William Steig (1990, The Trumpet Club)

Time to Read: short and funny; another great bedtime or anytime story

Summary:  School Library Journal wrote of the book, “(PreSchool-Grade 3) When a horrid ogre ventures out into the world, he encounters a nasty witch, a knight in armor, a dragon and true love with a princess who’s even uglier than he is in this tale by William Steig.”

Best Quote:  “Shrek snapped at her nose.  She nipped at his ear.  They clawed their way into each other’s arms.  Like fire and smoke, these two belonged together.”

Our View:  Has there ever been a more devoted storybook character to bring understanding to the old cliche, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?”  Though most every reader and parent will recall the great trilogy of movies by the same name, few realize that they were born in this very children’s book!  When I read it to my college students a few weeks ago, they were stunned that no one had ever told them one of their favorite movie characters was first a great big green mess of a giant named Shrek!  Known for his wonderfully creative children’s books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Doctor De Soto, author William Steig (1907-2003) brilliantly captures the gross and the beautiful, all in one fair book.  My daughters laughed and laughed at the colorful illustrations and hilarious poetry.

Remember to visit our Book Cook page for the recipe – “Gooeys” – created by the kids to accompany this particular book.

Man Finds Phone

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”                                                                                                          – George Moore


Books Welcome

I lost my phone yesterday!  I know – doesn’t it make you cringe at the mere thought of it?  I got in my jeep after work and headed home, and when I arrived there it was gone.  Maybe it was somewhere at my office or, horror of horrors, I had somehow dropped it in the parking lot as I was getting in my car. I worried about it on and off throughout the evening and then awoke ready to get to work and that parking lot, just in case.  I arrived early, but there was nothing there, not a smashed phone in the parking lot nor a lonely phone setting on a desk in the office.  I searched the world over and couldn’t imagine where I had left it. Where could it be?

And then it suddenly hit me, what if the phone was IN MY CAR?  What if it had simply slipped off the passenger seat and lodged itself somewhere between the seat and the door or maybe it was under the seat in one of those hard-to-reach spots?  I ran to the car and there it was, lying peacefully under the seat right next to a Sonic peppermint candy and two mechanical pencils.  I had searched everywhere for the thing I needed, the one thing I thought was lost or at least misplaced.  And there it was, in the one place it was supposed to be.

I have done this way too often in my life with things more important than a phone, jumped to the conclusion that surely what I need is further away from me than it is nearer to me.  That’s why I wish I could meet the man who wrote this quote, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”  Something worse than losing his phone must have happened to compel him to compose such a profound sentence.  His singular sentence speaks to me and reminds me and convicts me.

No wonder the mat outside our front door says, “Welcome.”

Father Knows Five 11-15-13

*Every Friday we serve you an “a la carte” style list of 5 unique videos, articles, ideas, etc. from all kinds of locations. (If you are viewing this blog through your email subscription, please follow the link to our website to view all videos.)  See you next week…

1.  I have always been a big fan of the series Choose Your Own Adventure.  Remember these great books?  Click on the pic below to go to a cool history of the series and how it came to be:


2.  Talk about adventure!  How about clicking on this pic below to go to an interesting slide show of some great library “slides” in history:


3.  Children’s Books as Good Medicine – “There are lessons and hope in kids books…”

4.  “For the better part of 18 years at different points in her career, Diane Muldrow has edited Little Golden books, the golden-spined children’s books. Her recently released Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book offers simple advice and illustrations from those pageturners.”  Click the photo here to go to the story:


5.  The art and artists of the Little Golden Book series.  Click the pic below to enjoy!


‘Choose your Adventure’ Thursday Stories with Baby Frederico

*Every Thursday we introduce you to another quick bedtime story about our family’s favorite resident reptile – Baby Frederico. His backstory can be found here.  Enjoy!

 photo 1

Baby Frederico loves his Momma Mia and Papá Frita, his buddy Grenelda the Grasshopper, blue crayons, popcorn, and…the bowl of candy that sets on top of the refrigerator after Trick-or-Treating; but he did not like to be bored.  Here is his story:

Baby Frederico was bored.  How bored was he?  He was so bored that cleaned out his closet.  He retied all of his shoelaces. He washed AND dried every single one of his Hot Wheels.  He rebuilt his Star Wars Lego Death Star model twice.  He re-did the paperclip chain that had been hanging on the back of his bedroom door since the 1st grade.  He counted every penny in the entire house (including the handfuls that were overflowing from his dad’s billfold drawer).  He even tried to catch the dust particles that floated through the rays of sunlight that streamed across his bedroom floor.

Baby Frederico was bored.  He wondered to himself why everyone else seemed to have such cool things to do.  From doing the most awesome skateboard moves to spelunking in caves near the ocean, riding in a sailboat through uncharted waters, climbing a really big mountain (or even a little hill), finding a treasure map and the treasure full of gold coins that it leads to, becoming a rich and famous movie star or inventing a way to get all your homework done in five minutes – why was it that everyone else had all the adventure while he had to suffer from all the boredom?

Papá Frita was walking past the door to his bedroom when he noticed that familiar look of boredom in Baby Frederico’s eye.

“What’s up?”  he asked.

Baby Frederico grumped, “I’m bored, bored, bored, bored, bored.  Why does everyone else seem to have all the fun and get to do amazing things and win races and have a million friends and tell the best jokes and climb mountains every day and find lost gold mines while I get to sit here and catch dust particles in my bedroom?”

“What a great question mi hijo,”  Papá Frita said.  “I don’t know anyone who does all of those things every day but I do know people who do some of those things sometimes.  I wonder what would happen if you chose to not be bored?”

With that, Papá Frita left the room and Baby Frederico was left to think.  His father loved to do that – answer Baby Frederico’s question with another question – and it always got Baby Frederico thinking.

Maybe the reason he was bored was because he was choosing to be bored. Maybe it was because he WASN’T doing anything – well, anything that mattered to him.  Maybe feeling bored is just a way for you to realize that you need to choose your own adventure.

Wait. Did he just think that up himself – choose your own adventure?

And that is when “The Adventure List” was born…






The Under 5 Crowd

I have spent the past 18 years in the field of early childhood education as a student and professor.  The textbooks are good and the thinkers are some of the best and getting people together to talk about best practices and great ideas and teaching with enthusiasm and pride and professionalism is exciting, but none of it can really ever hold a candle to seeing all of those scholarly thoughts and ideas and lesson plans and reading skills play out right in front of us in real life.

My youngest niece is CJ (age 2) and my youngest nephew is McCoy (age 3).  Since they are the littlest of our six wonderful nieces and nephews, they are the most uninhibited about their play and proud of their adventurous spirits.  Their families have read books over and over to them, which gives these wonderful kids a sense that they can also read them.  They like to try to spell things and draw things and wonder about things and build things and think about things and talk about all kinds of things, and everyone at my house is grateful for such things.

Here are three “moments” that remind us just how great it is to know people under the age of 5!

Shaving Cream



Whether it is trying to write letters in shaving cream (we also like rolling Hot Wheels through it!), looking through books just before bedtime with all the blankets in the house on top of you, or just sitting in your very own personal “book room” (a little corner of the bedroom with a Winnie-the-Pooh bedsheet for a curtain and a few shelves for favorite books), a book and child will make the best of friends.

We’re fans of the under 5 crowd!

‘The Butterfly’ – Look at THIS book!

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique “recipe for fun” this week over on our Book Cook page…


Today’s great book:  The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco (2000, Philomel)

Time to Read: a moving story of history and childhood captured in a children’s book for bedtime or anytime reading

Summary:  Publishers Weekly wrote, for ages 4-8, “Polacco continues to mine her family history, this time telling the story of an aunt’s childhood in wartime France. Young Monique doesn’t comprehend the brutality of the Nazis’ mission until the day three German soldiers find her admiring a butterfly…then grabs the butterfly and crushes it in his fist. The butterfly, or papillon as it is frequently called here, becomes for Monique a symbol of the Nazis’ victims. Her sympathies are quickly focused: one night Monique wakes up to discover a girl in her bedroom and learns that she and her parents, Jews, have been hiding for months in Monique’s house, protected by Monique’s mother. The girl, Sevrine, has been forbidden to leave the hiding place, so she and Monique meet secretly. Then a neighbor sees the two girls at the window one night, and Sevrine’s family must flee…”

Best Quote:  “They both watched as butterflies started to land on the dry stalks of faded flowers.  First there were three, then ten, then twenty and thirty.  Neighbors came out fo their cottages and peered over the wall in wonder.”

Our View:  I was stunned by this children’s book.  It is one of those books that you want everyone to know about and read.  I urge you to find it and read it with your family.  We read the first pages knowing very little about where the plot would take us, so each page was a treasure and a surprise and painful and wonderful and mysterious and ultimately uplifting.  The author’s note about the actual history behind the story is worth its weight in gold.  This is an important work that has become an instant classic at our house.  The book we are most familiar with from this author is Pink and Say (1994, Philomel).  We’ll review that one here soon!

Remember to visit our Book Cook page for the recipe – “Butterflies Rising” – created by the kids to accompany this particular book.