Our son, Cam, and I built a raft together some time ago. After a successful test run and still riding the wave of spirit and adventure we decided June was the time to put her (and us) to the test. Time for an expedition! It was an expedition for us, anyway.
With the help of Google Maps, Cam charts the course. We have water, food and flotation devices.
Time to launch. There are compartments under the deck that are filled with recycled plastic bottles. That should keep us floating.
Goodbye city slickers. We'll write when we can.
One thing we learned quickly was that steering the raft was often difficult. We mostly "suggested" that our raft go this way or that and then the raft would make the final decision. In retrospect I feel the raft had too much power in the decision making.
Less than a mile into the journey we hit a small series of rapids and I was swept overboard. I held on and when the water calmed I scurried back on board. I was able to report to my raft mate that the water was bracing and invigorating. Cam and I were a bit shaken by the rapids but we maintained our resolve and sense of humor.
I'm all wet!
Cam is cool under pressure.
Based on our calculations we are still on the river.
For the balance of the trip we alternated between easy paddling and floating lazily with the swift current. We saw many huge trout and on shore we saw wild horses, rabbits and vultures (uh,oh). The last mile was spent paddling on a slow, deep portion of the river until we reached an agreed on point where we would disembark. Lisa and Rosie were going to take the raft the final few miles to a designated pull out area.
Rosie and Lisa
Rosie and Lisa get started
Here's where it gets crazy. Just a quarter mile down river and around a bend the river gets unpredictable and dangerously fast. We didn't know this. We had scouted the river during a low water time and didn't realize how things would change as the water was now faster and higher. Rosie and Lisa were quickly carried into a boiling, scary portion of the river. They went overboard in the rapids - I dove in and swam towards them - they grabbed some branches and pulled themselves to safety. It was all very fast and very real. I was able to get to shore shortly after them. We were shaken and relieved to get through that. A person nearby said he thought the raft was caught up in some trees further down the river. The question for us was should we try to float down and save the raft? Family meeting time. After a reality check we decided that we were so lucky to all be together and that we shouldn't risk it to save the raft. Some lucky cuss down the river can have it. We've got each other and a true life adventure story instead.
My favorite picture - Lisa and Rosie safe and sound.
Those online games and their sneaky online marketing! You can't let those game makers out of your sight for a second.
Enticed by the lure of playing online games with their favorite cartoon characters, kids are logging on to online games like crazy. Once the gamer is logged in they are a captive audience to pop up ads and logos that are woven into the graphics. In short - lots of advertising per computer screen square inch. None of this is against the law. There is very little hard sell but there is a ceaseless opportunity grab to foster brand loyalty. I am getting dangerously close to talking marketese so I'll stop here. The key is to educate your kids as to why they are seeing ads and logos and why these games sites are free when others require payment. Explain that "sneak previews" and "exclusive video clips" are essentially ads. We can arm our kids with knowledge by teaching them to play "guess what they're selling".
This 1/2 page illustration was created for the February issue of School Library Journal under the benevolent and wise stewardship of art director, Mark Tuchman.
That is how long Dan Gutman and I have been working on the MY Weird School book series. And I have loved it. Before the folks at HarperCollins called and asked if I wanted to be the illustrator for a new series about a school-hating second grader and his weird teachers I had always wanted to work on a chapter book series. My admiration for The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka was mostly because of the terrific artwork created by Lane Smith and Adam McCauley. And before that our kids and I would read Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey because we loved the goofy, pointless stories and artwork. Goofy and pointless - I wouldn't mind having that on my headstone when my time comes.
In the ten years that Dan and I have been working on the My Weird School series we have seen the kids in the books go from 2nd to 3rd grade. Teachers come and go, marry each other and try in vain to teach the same math lesson book after book. We now have 40 books in print and another half dozen or so are planned over the next couple of years. The artwork in the series is now at a point that I am pretty happy. The characters have grown into their roles and the stories are more funny and more unpredictable than ever before. That is a surprise to me - that after forty books the art and stories have improved.
A few years ago Dan and I both admitted to each other that we figured the series would be a success if we could just reach 8-10 books. That would be good, we thought. That would be enough. But the series has been a bigger hit than we imagined. Dan created My Weird School to be a goofy series that would turn on reluctant readers and in that regard it has been an olympic sized success. We both receive letters from kids and happy parents that the My Weird School books have made their kids love to read. Dan often visits schools to read and talk to kids about reading and I visit schools to draw and talk with kids about the importance of reading and creativity. A pretty fun way to spend a morning is drawing with seventy 3rd and 4th graders while trying to make each other laugh.
The question I am most asked by parents is, "don't you get tired of drawing the same characters over and over?". No, not a bit. And that surprises even me since I have the attention span of a gibbon. The question that kids usually ask is, "who is your favorite character in the book?". A.J., the flawed but lovable kid who is also the narrator in the series.
Here are some of the more recent book covers in the series.
In 2010, I created a piece for an article in School Library Journal. The piece, "How I corrupted The Youth of America", was about censorship and parental reaction (and hyper over-reaction) to some kids books. In this case - the My Weird School books.
This piece is about letting go. It's also about the lifetime journeys we take with family, friends and by ourselves. After we leave this life do we say good-bye forever or will we later see and embrace the people that have made deep, lasting impressions in our lives?
Some of the imagery here is about past friendships and unrealized dreams. But it is also about unlikely relationships and the love that helps to make friendships happen.
Or, to some, perhaps this piece is about a flying popsicle.