the news section

By "news" of course, we mean that which is new. Information, projects, ideas, that sort of thing. Maybe sometimes now and then you might find the "recent" and occasionally something quite "old" might find its way on to these pages. Possibly it could be in the form of an illustration, or perhaps I"m just behind the curve in some way. Enjoy.

all the apples on the tree

July 2, 2020 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

Scotland, a year ago today:

Michael and I had left the Isle of Arran the previous morning, waving goodbye to Dave and Kris and Stew after a week riding bikes, eating fish & chips and drinking whisky in Lamlash. We ferried from Lochranza to Claonaig, then headed north to Lochgilphead where we had a fastfood dinner. A few more miles up the road was Lochgair, where we stayed for the night in the AirBNB guest bedroom of Ian, a garrulous and amicable fellow who kept the wine flowing along with the stories of his life. I could have listened for hours, really, but I wanted to sleep. We’d ridden 58 miles that day, and knew we still had a long way to go. 

We had no idea.

The next morning began with breakfast laid out on the kitchen table with a note from Ian to help ourselves. So we did.

Mike and I then packed up, left a thank you, and double-checked our bags and bikes before locking Ian’s door. We were expecting about 70 miles, mostly around Loch Fyne, up and over the Rest & Be Thankful Pass, and down to Loch Lomond, which we would follow into the northern suburbs of Glasgow. We mounted up, rode about fifty meters up the A83, and then I heard it. Some kind of weird clicking in my pedal. “Hold on” I called up to Mike. “Something’s weird.” I pulled over onto the side of the road, still within easy view of Ian’s house, and pulled my foot off the pedal. In doing so, I also pulled the pedal off the bike. Even if you don’t ride bikes much, you probably know that this isn’t what is supposed to happen. The bearings that keep the pedal spinning on the spindle had completely disintegrated. These are Crank Brothers pedals, and I’ve been riding them for years, so I’m no stranger to pedal issues. This has happened to me and others on rides, but always within a few miles of the trailhead, to the point that one could stuff the pedal back on the spindle and awkwardly make it back to the starting point. But in this case, the starting point was 60 miles behind us.

It’s amazing how quickly one’s brain starts listing The Problems at hand, and possible Solutions. Obviously, I wasn’t going to be able to just deal and suffer on, like I might on a ride back home. Nor could I walk out of the woods, call for a lift, or do a quick roadside repair. Mike and I both knew what was at stake. We’d been looking forward to this day for a long time. However, if I’m gonna be stuck on the side of the road in a foreign country in the middle of a long-planned vacation that could now be ruined with a broken bike, Mike would be the guy with whom I’d want to be stuck with. It’s an inside joke, but I’m pretty certain I asked Mike if he could wander up and down the A83 for a few minutes, looking in people’s trash cans to see if anyone happened to throw away a perfectly good bike pedal. The chances would be better than you think that he’d find one.

Mike knows the old trope that the destination isn’t really the destination. The journey is the destination. And at that point, right then, that morning a year ago today, it was pretty much looking like our destination might change, and whatever the journey was to be, was different from what we thought. But it’s a lovely morning, we’re in Scotland, and worst case scenario Ian would be back from work in eight hours and the old hotel bar across the street had a good selection of Islay whiskys. Being stuck in Lochgair for a day or two wouldn’t be a terrible worst case scenario.

However, we still wanted to get where we were going, so Mike and I split duties. He looked at the bus routes, and I searched for the nearest bike shop. We weren’t far from one of the national bike routes that criss-cross Scotland (and I suppose the UK), so I figured some little town somewhere around must have something. The largest nearby town was Lochgilphead, where we’d had dinner the night before, and was eight miles behind us. I found the bike shop’s website (which seems to no longer exist), and while they didn’t list their inventory, the picture on the site showed a selection of Shimano things hanging on the wall, some of which were recognizable as pedals. At that point, I figured even plastic flat pedals for a kid’s bike would be good enough to get us through the next two days, wherein we’d be in Glasgow, where I could certainly find some proper clipless versions. I checked their hours — 9:00 am opening time. What time was it? 9:05. 

Mike and I decided on a plan: I’d ride back to the shop and get pedals, he’d ride on ahead to the town of Inveraray, 17 miles north, where we’d meet, probably around lunchtime. I could get back to Lochgilphead faster on my own and then make up time chasing him. What happens if I get to the bike shop and no pedals? Or worse, I don’t actually get to the bike shop? A year later, I don’t recall if we’d considered either of those options. I suppose I would have messaged him to ask what he’d learned about bus schedules. And he would have had a nice solo ride to Inveraray to remember years from now. Again, there really weren’t any terrible options. That was important to remember. The trip wasn’t going to be ruined. It was just going to be… different.

Let’s cut to the chase, literally. I arrived at the shop in the rain and found that somewhere along the way I’d lost the shell of the pedal completely and its was my shoe on the spindle at this point. Yes, the bike shop was open. Yes, the owner of the bike shop suggested that maybe I don’t ride Crank Brothers pedals any more. Yes, he sold me a pair of Shimano Deore pedals that felt like little anchors on my feet. I hate Shimano pedals, but I’ve never been happier to install a pair. I thanked the owner, noted the for sale sign on his shop window, and headed out of town, intending to make up time to the extent that maybe I could even catch Mike before Inveraray.

Lochgilphead.

No such luck. I was several miles out when he messaged me that he’d found a cafe with a view and would wait. With this news, I peeled off the A83 at the town of Furnace, and took a gravel side road along the Loch and around Dun Leachainn. It was alternately sunny and rainy, and I was rapturous with joy and relief as I blasted through to Inveraray.

Took another unpaved detour at Furnace, to Inverary.

Mike and I had a delightful lunch in town, and met a pair of bikepackers from Finland who were wandering their way across Europe.

Cute town, good lunch. Met a couple of Finnish bikepackers who gave us some good advice. That’s one of them talking to Mike.
Inveraray. Cute town, good lunch.
Inveraray Castle and my Chumba Terlingua. Like a postcard.

They asked about our route, and suggests some changes. Mainly, take the small roads, stay off the big road. The plan for the afternoon was to head up to the top of Glen Croe where there is a lovely viewing area and a stone placed there in 1750 to commemorate the completion of the first road through this part of Scotland. We had some pretty serious climbing to do to get there, and taking the scenic route made this much more interesting. The steepest grade we saw was 19%, but it was so quiet and so beautiful that neither of us complained.

The Finns showed us a route that kept us off the main highway.
The hill was steep, but the road was incredibly satisfying.
No complaints..
Steep.

We arrived with great fanfare at the top and we were rewarded for our work with a view down the Glen that pictures don’t do justice. For various reasons, Mike had mentally pinned the idea of this place into his brain, and arriving there with him was like accompanying a kid on Christmas morning. It marked 2/3 of our journey for the day, and it was literally downhill from here to the suburb of Balloch where we’d be staying that night.

Mike and I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for weeks. An old stone designates the pass with the words “rest and be thankful” on it. We did and we were. Then we were off.

Mike and I took turns heading down the old military road through the valley. The highway above us on the hillside was dense with cars and trucks, and in fact has since been closed for repairs, again, after a landslide in January. Aware that this descent was probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, I filmed it with the phone and GoPro.

It wasn’t lost on us that we still had 30 miles to go, even though it was mostly flat and mostly scenic along Loch Lomond.

Twenty miles along the lake to Balloch.

The stupid silly grins stayed on our faces throughout the afternoon and into the evening, until we finally arrived in Balloch at 8:30pm (still in bright sunlight), got dinner at a Fish & Chips joint called Yummy, and watched the Women’s World Cup match on the tv.

Twenty miles along the lake to Balloch.

The next morning we escaped Balloch with much less drama than it took to get there, taking the train into Glasgow and touring the city before Mike and I went separate ways.

Mike gave me a tour of the city.
Followed Mike around town. No better tour guide. But it was time for goodbyes as he was heading back to the USA while I was sticking around. Bye Mike!

He was leaving the next morning to return home to Philadelphia, and I was heading back to Arran, where I’d be joined by my wife, Sacha, and our friends Rob and Kevin for ten more days in Scotland before racing Grinduro on July 13 and heading home a few days later. 

Kevin, Rob and Sacha on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
Post-Grinduro.

A year later I’m still processing what that trip, that ride, and particular that day meant to me. 2020 has been a different kind of year and has forced thoughts inward rather than outward. I look forward to a little more outward soon. 

Here’s the ride on Strava. Cheers.

long weekend ahead

May 22, 2020 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

In more ways than one.

Draw Bike & Trike

April 3, 2020 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

Since I started my virtual story-times, there are now about a million people doing the same. Numbers of viewers have dropped quite a lot, and I’m gonna take a break. In the meantime, I recorded this drawing lesson for SimonKids for Bike & Trike. Get some paper and a pencil and have fun!

Homebound? Read this!

March 20, 2020 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

I’ve been an illustrator for more than 20 years. As a result, I’ve been practicing “social distancing” almost my entire working life. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that most of you are learning this new routine right now, and everyone is home, sitting around realizing that “working from home” isn’t always as awesome as one might have thought.
I suspect this is especially true for kids, who miss their friends, miss their teachers (except Mrs. Stokes, my 2nd grade teacher from back in 1976 — no one misses her) miss the cafeteria food, and so on. Having the entire day off from school isn’t so cool when one can’t hang out with friends and socialize.
A week or so ago, I heard of a thing that was ramping up on Instagram under the hashtag #OperationStorytime. Authors and illustrators are reading their books and posting online. I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to jump in on.
Since last Tuesday, I’ve been reading books and posting the videos on my Instagram account and to a special area of my YouTube channel. I hope to do this every weekday. I mean, I’ve illustrated like 80 books, I hope that’s enough. If not, I’ll start reading favorite books I had nothing to do with. And then maybe restaurant menus, and magazine articles.

I think there are various equivalents on Twitter and various publishers’ YouTube channels as well. Mo Willems and Bob Shea are doing doodles. Greg Pizzoli and Mac Barnett have been reading books on live Instagram feeds.

Kids’ books to the rescue! I hope you’re all safe and sound and healthy. Keep in touch, and post requests in the comments.

Let’s do this.

The Space Walk is in orbit!

November 1, 2019 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

The Space Walk, my latest book as an author/illustrator, was launched this last Tuesday, Oct 29. I’d planned to do something as a countdown, of sorts, but that didn’t work out so instead I put this historical record together. Please enjoy, and go order a copy of The Space Walk today.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.1: Ed White, first American to walk in space, had a copy of The Space Walk with him on his EVA. “I like the part where Randolph sees the constellations” was overheard on the NASA radio signals. 

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.2: Yuri Gagarin was known to enjoy a good picture book while being the first human in space. Recently unearthed photos show him reading aloud during his mission. “One hour and 48 minutes isn’t enough to get involved in a proper sci-fi novel,” he apparently said to Pravda in 1961. “So I like a good picture book about making friends with life from other worlds!”

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.3: Everyone knows that E.T. loved Sedak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and pretty much everything Shel Silverstein ever wrote. Apparently he liked stories that hit closer to “home” as well.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.4: Here’s a photo of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. People have always wondered how Neil and Buzz were chosen to walk on the moon, while Michael had to stay behind and orbit in the Columbia module. Well, the reason isn’t that Collins “had to.” He chose to sit in the lunar orbiter, all alone for almost 22 hours, because he knew he’d have more time to read picture books! “I heard the moon was pretty boring,” Collins explained in an interview. 

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.5: A long-lost Bugs Bunny episode was recently turned up in the dusty basement vaults of Warner Bros animation studios. Awkwardly titled “No Strangers Here, Only Martians We’ve Never Met,” this cartoon short features Marvin the Martian and Bugs Bunny sitting around reading The Space Walk together for ten minutes before hugging and walking off camera. Why it was canned, no one knows. 

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.6: Astronauts Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, and the lesser-known Randolph Witherspoon. The Right Stuff indeed.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.7: In 1957, as the story goes, an alien invasion was averted when “Bezos” and “Zebos,” The Saucer Men, were gifted a copy of The Space Walk. The story of a human astronaut befriending a space robot alien touched a nerve, a very large green nerve to be precise, and the Saucer Men called off the attack. In 1994, “Bezos” returned to earth and founded the famous website Amazon.com as a gift to all humans.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.8: On Friday, October 18, 2019, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch ventured outside the International Space Station to replace a power controller. This spacewalk was the first ever to be performed by an all-female crew. “Repairing power controllers is boring, so I read a book while Jessica wasn’t looking, LOL.” said Koch. Both actual astronauts described The Space Walk as being “highly realistic” in its portrayal of lone astronaut Randolph Witherspoon and his adventures in space. “The part where Randolph has to do a ton of work before getting to go outside reminded me of an hour earlier when I was back in the space station, doing chores.” said Meir.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.9: Previously unseen still image from The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951. In the original cut of this sci-fi classic from 20th Century Fox, Klaatu, the alien, seen here with his robot-guard Gort, claims to come “in peace and with good will” and would like to give a copy of this picture book, The Space Walk, to the President of the United States. This scene was re-cut by director Robert Wise when it was realized that the book was not even published yet, and would not be for almost 70 years.

Historically significant The Space Walk sightings, no.10: This scene of total bedlam was taken March 9, 1968 at Mission Control in Houston, Texas, as Astronaut Randolph Witherspoon returned from his Space Walk in time to write his report and eat his dinner. “Spacewalk complete! When can I go out again?” was the first recorded message from Witherspoon after his extra-vehicular activity (EVA).

He went out again the very next day.

Countdown to Launch!

October 25, 2019 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

The Space Walk is published next Tuesday, October 29, and everyone here is suited up and ready to make the walk to the launch vehicle! Some quick notes about stuff coming up:

Tomorrow, October 26: Children’s Book World is hosting a Launch Party! 1:00pm in Haveford PA.

Tuesday, October 29, is publication day. It’s now a national holiday so everyone skip work and read The Space Walk.

The Space Walk was accepted into the Society of Illustrator’s Children’s Book show. Opening is Nov 14 in NYC and the show runs for a month or so.

I have bookmarks! You want one?

Some really good reviews of The Space Walk:
Kirkus!
Publisher’s Weekly!
More on the way…

THE SPACE WALK, space walking

September 20, 2019 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

The Space Walk is my new book, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Kids, and will be out on October 29. I made this animated trailer to promote the book, and I hope you like it.

Animation was done in After Effects, editing in Premiere. Narration was kindly provided by Milo Biggs. Noises and music is by my alter-ego, Dance Robot Dance.

T is for Truck collages

March 13, 2019 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

Ten years ago I made a series of six race car collages that screwed up my brain. See, I draw. I’ve always drawn. The idea of making images with cut paper seemed so foreign, and making these race cars was so crazy fun and weird and maybe 10% scary. It’s not digital, there is no undo, and it’s like trying to learn to communicate effectively in a different language. I know how a car looks when I draw it, but how does it look if I make it with paper and glue?

Mainly, I loved the process and I couldn’t wait to do more. But somehow ten years and about 35 books went by and I only periodically messed around with the technique. I have stayed in touch with collage, from afar. My friend Kevin Mercer makes lovely work, and I’ve read a bunch of books and seen some exhibits while I waited for the opportunity.

Well, waiting for opportunities is dumb. You don’t wait for them, you make them. So after finishing a picture book a few weeks ago, I blocked some time and got to work. The excuse here is an alphabet book I want to pitch, and these are practice images. Both are cut paper on pine boards. One is 10×10 inches and the other is 12×12. Both utilize magazines, comics, scanned images from an old plumbing and heating manual, and other printed ephemera. And the enjoyment has not slipped away. This is fun stuff and I can’t wait to make more.

Here are some process photos of how these things come together. The two pictures of the book are from “Audels House Heating Guide 1948” which was used for the robot parts in the rear of the blue truck, as well as the rear of the truck itself.



Camp Out, 11 years later!

July 4, 2018 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

I just found an interview on NPR with Lynn Brunelle, the author of a book I illustrated called CAMP OUT! I’ve always loved this book and I still find it in stores. Take a listen and get the book, then get outside this summer!

Community Helpers

March 22, 2018 | bookmark | Leave a Comment

Hey, I’m a Mail carrier, the 8th book in the Tinyville Town series came out two weeks ago. I stopped by the local USPS and gave a copy to Rita, who has worked there forever and was one of the inspirations for the character of Rita in the book. Also, I dropped by the local fire station, Engine 30, and gave Lieutenant Tony Knighton a copy of I’m a Firefighter. I’d been meaning to do this for a while now, and the perfect chance came up when I also needed to take some pictures for the next Tinyville Town book, called At the Firehouse, which will be out in Spring 2019.

Thanks Rita, and thanks Tony!