Saturday, May 21, 2016

Author/Illustrator Challenges for the Blind

Whew! Finally a break is coming, just over the horizon. With the past few months of school visits, conferences of teachers, librarians, agents, editor, authors, and illustrators, I will once again be back at the drawing board. And with this comes a fun, recent challenge. A forgotten voide challenge all of us in the kid lit biz should take time to discover.

The missing voice, the forgotten voice? The group not usually portrayed, the blind and visually impaired. It was not until I was introduced to Donna Posont, a blind naturalist from UM Dearborn did I ever think or spend time or even know of the challenges of the blind.

Donna praised my Holly Wild books saying that they worked well with her blind kids that she works with. Nature and the blind go hand-in-hand. Something us "sight challenged" people, she jokes, take for granted. Right now, as I write this, I hear a myriad of birds, layers of songs and calls. The breeze is bringing in the pungent odor of blooming autumn olive. A truck drives up the dirt road, banging and clanging, teeth-jarringly over potholes, a beagle whimpers, and my fingers tap these keys. Kind of easy to describe these observations in word. But art? Illustration?

Book 1--now in Braille!
Sensory writing. Sensory art. For years, I have worked in mixed media for my fine art, mixing color, texture, text, and natural ephemera. With my books, I use those ingredients for covers or inside illustration. But how does an illustrator put work out for the blind?

Donna wrote me a few months ago requesting the last two books in the Holly Wild series to be recorded. The first two were recorded years back by the Michigan Blind and Talking Book Library. As time flies, and business and busyness prevails, we never contacted them to do the last two. So of course, we hopped on that request immediately. She wants the books to be required reading for her students! Because there were not enough copies to go around, Donna had Bamboozled on Beaver Island (book 1) printed in braille for her next event. The text, no illustrations.

I got to see this nifty braille version in person (5 copies) when I was recently invited by Donna for the Big Day of Birding, to celebrate Urban Birding at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor. Donna, or "Butterfly", as she is known by the kids was leading our group out onto the park trails to bird by ear.

Donna Posont, blind naturalist, helps build confidence in blind kids.
Warm, funny, gentle , she truly is "Butterfly" to the kids.
The event sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind MI, UM Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center, and the MI Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (MVPI), and others put on a super event. There were even beautiful, colorful textural, raised art and braille t-shirts from Cindi Dail of Artrageous.com.

But the real fun was in sharing stories, crafting, and birding with blind and VIP of all ages. We shared the love of birds and learning and nature, despite the chilly, rainy, windy spring weather that was dished to us!

It was a challenge for me to put together a craft for the energetic and enthusiastic group, known as the Michigan Birdbrains. I had made a bird art piece from trash a few years ago, and do you think I could find it now that I needed it?

My urban bird art of found items
So I created another using trash around home. Next, I hit the internet in search of tips for crafts for the blind. I do mixed media, so it should be easy--and it was. Printing, stamping, drawing with scented markers and crayons. Tissue paper and fiber textures to be glued down with glue sticks on birds and nests that I cut out of heavy paper. My craft was a hit since we couldn't get out onto the trail with wind and rain.

After the craft it was time for the trail and bird count. Now, Marie and I are taking part in the Michigan Frog & Toad Survey this year and are "frogging by ear" at night to count species as a part of the state's citizen scientist program. So "birding by ear" is the same, counting species from songs present. And holy cats, how many songs are twirling around out there and competing with our human made noise?! After spending time with the group I was inspired to learn more songs. Some of these kids really know their birds and Donna is a font of knowledge.

I was so impressed with the group and what Donna is doing for Detroit kids that I am including them all in my next book to get all kids thinking about using their senses out on the trail as well as in the yard. I hope to get out to another of their events to work with them again this summer.

But when I do, I will raise the large illustrations with Puffy paint on my laminated large chapter copy of Bamboozled on Beaver Island so kids can actually feel Holly and her freckles, the "creepy arm" of the story, and other scenes (Cindi's shirts got me thinking!). It's all about remembering the other people out there who maybe cannot fully engage or enjoy our writing or illustrating. A simple thing as raised art, textural art for speaking events is pretty cool and a creative challenge!

List of textures to include:  sandpaper, bubble wrap, cheesecloth or burlap, buttons, yarns and twine, gel medium paste to build up, handmade papers, glitter, feathers, fur scraps, fringe, to name a few. Think, TOUCH! Think inclusive. :)

Shelf fungus on a fallen tree offers textural time.

Listening to bird songs to record.

Mute swan on her next by the trail.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spring Conference Mind

Trading Post Turtles

Jen in the Devil's Kitchen checking out his pots & pans.
The Library of Michigan's Rural and Small Library Conference 2016 on Mackinac Island came just three days after I returned from the SCBWI Wild,Wild Midwest conference in Naperville, IN.  I went from busy city driving to leisurely horses and bikes! Here on Mackinac Island, 550 librarians spilled in from small towns, villages, and rural areas in Michigan. And to hit the island the first week of May's spring weather, was a special treat. 

As an invited speaker for the conference, I was to stay in the Grand Hotel, another treat! (The last time I was on that portch was when they were filming "Somewhere in Time" and Christopher Reeve brushed past my mother and me on his was to a set in the dining room.) 


Sun-warmed cedar perfume fills the air.

The first thing that Jen, my lovely daughter and assistant and I did, was rent bikes. The clear, cool, breezy weather was perfect for a trip around the island--after we checked in and registered at the conference. A huge box lunch sent us on our way with treats for later as we explored the flora and fauna. Cedars and firs smelled divine! White-crowned sparrows in tiny groups, gulls, and a loon zipped past us.

We biked the whole island perimeter and were glad to make it to Arch Rock near the last leg of the journey.

Arch Rock from the bike path. Breccia limestone wonder.
Heading toward town I showed Jen the beaver lodge I had been watching from conferences past. I was glad to see the beaver family had worked on their home before the winter. The lodge is in front of the Mission Point Resort, just off the path by the golf course.

Mission Point Beaver lodge still intact after a long winter.

After dinner we went for a walk and stretch our legs in the gardens and labyrinth in front of the Grand before heading to our room. And what a room! The Madison suite was huge. Jen loved the colors, peach, light sea foam turquoise and antique furniture. There is a portrait of Dolly who watched our every move which had us looking up ghost stories of hauntings at the Grand Hotel.

The Grand Hotel gardens and fountain. Daffodils out now.
The next morning was conference presentation day! Coffee was nice in the quiet, then it was a mad dash to get gear, books, laptop, and things off to their places. What a fast-paced few days.

Morning view from our Madison Suite in the Grand.

I delivered a fun program on Books, Bugs, & Budget to wonderful librarians on how they can come to the rescue of kids getting outdoors. Great interest, questions, enthusiasm made it wonderful. The time flew by. And so did Jen and I! We had a taxi to catch after our amazing Grand Hotel lunch to get to the Mackinac Island School to chat with kids.

Forty-five kids in K-6th grade.

Bikes of all sizes and colors! What fun!
After the rush of the conference it was neat to hang out with year-round resident island kids. They learned about me and I learned about them. Their life of bikes, adventures, fudge, and no cars were their favorite things. When school let out kids went home and Jen and I went over to spend the night with the math/science teacher, Liz Burt and her family.

There was a hike in the oak/beech forest to see blooming hepatica and trillium not quite ready to open. But the real fun was yet to be had. Snake hunting! A popular pasttime for the kids, they head to Old Burners (remains of the island incinerator) to flip the metal sheets there. Mom, Liz had a bag for the snake booty! We found a few cool artifacts from years past. Glass bottles that will never break down, old shoes, lots of horse bones, a small pot, and coyote scat. I did find a large rubber horse shoe and Liz packed the few things up to send home to inspire me for a Mackinac Island Holly Wild adventure.

Seven garter snakes collected and released. 
Snake-hunting at "Ol Burners" 


The next morning, Jen and I took the taxi carriage to town for breakfast at Sea Biscuit. We were served by yet another friendly islander, John. Hickory-smoked molasses bacon, stuffed banana bread french toast, and a "mamosa" (mango) morning treat with coffee sent us off the island feeling pretty good about our visit. This was by far, the most enjoyable island visit I ever had. A great time to learn and share stories. 

Morning island departure view from our early taxi.