Friday, November 7, 2014

Blog Tour: I'm My Own Dog, by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick, 2014)

It's a special pleasure to welcome to the Fourth Musketeer author/illustrator David Ezra Stein.  David is the creator of many award-winning picture books, including Interrupting Chicken, which was awarded a Caldecott Honor, and Dinosaur Kisses.  His books are great read-alouds, and are favorites of librarians, teachers, parents, and yes, kids.  

He has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his very funny new picture book, I'm My Own Dog.  In a role reversal that will tickle all dog lovers, this dog has no need of a human owner.  He can perfectly well take care of himself (except for that one little spot he can't scratch).  But what will happen when he lets one of those cute humans follow him home?  Kids and adults alike will love the reversal of roles in Stein's newest book.  

Q:  David, my miniature poodle Buddy would love your new book--if he could read.  He definitely thinks he's in charge of the house and will even carry his own leash and throw toys to himself in play and then run and fetch them.  Was there a particular dog that inspired you to create the character in I'm My Own Dog?

my dog, Buddy

A:  Hi Margo! Maybe he can read, but doesn’t want to let on. Even if he doesn’t read English, I’m hoping this book will be translated to Doggish sometime soon. Admittedly, it’s hard to find a translator…. “Woof! Wauf! Wooooah! Wuf. Rrrrrr?” Sorry for the interruption; that was just me asking if there are any dog translators out there. I only speak a little, broken Doggish.

I was not inspired by any one dog, but by my inner dog, I suppose, who wants to be his own master. To be able to choose how he responds to the world, and not be lead around by a leash of fear or knee-jerk reaction. That is a kind of mastery. That is a dog who walks himself.

some examples of Stein's humor and artwork
Q:  Who are some of your favorite fictional dogs, either in children's or adult literature?

A:  Harry the Dirty Dog.

Q:  Could you discuss a bit using animals or monsters as protagonists in children's books instead of actual children?  I've always wondered if this decision was made in order to avoid having to choose a specific race if children were used, or is it really just because it's much more fun to draw chickens and dogs than kids?  

A:  Sure. I don’t know that there’s only one answer to this, but it does seem to me an animal or monster or whatever non-human character we employ in literature, is used to give a higher degree of universality. Kids tend to be open to animals in a way that they are not open to people.
It is perhaps easier to achieve a timeless quality using non-humans, because you can circumvent the trappings of fashion, technology, etc.

And yes, I do think it’s effective to use animals when it comes to race and even gender, in that it helps focus on the subject matter, and I think it is more relatable for all children.
Additionally, although we live mainly in cities, there is still an archetypal wilderness inside each of us, populated by wolves, bears, rabbits, owls, snakes, and such. Whether this stems from Fairytales, or Aesop’s Fables, or much deeper times when we ourselves lived in the woods, I don’t know.

Lastly, from an illustration standpoint, it is more fun to draw creatures or animals. I am not that into drawing kids, for some reason. Animals and monsters and such can be designed to an extent that allows for a lot more leeway.

David, thanks so much for visiting The Fourth Musketeer!  I look forward to reading I'm My Own Dog in one of my library storytimes soon!

In addition to his website, you can find David Ezra Stein on Facebook.  Here's the schedule for the complete blog tour:

  • 11/3/2014 Smart Books for Smart Kids
  • 11/4/2014 Read Now, Sleep Later
  • 11/5/2014 Cracking the Cover
  • 11/6/2014 Elizabeth Dulemba's blog
  • 11/7/2014 The Fourth Musketeer
  • 11/8/2014 Picture Book Palooza
  • 11/9/2014 Randomly Reading
  • 11/10/2014 Children's Corner
  • 11/11/2014 Flowering Minds
  • 11/12/2014 Teach Mentor Texts
  • 11/13/2014 KidLit Frenzy
  • 11/14/2014 Literacy Toolbox
  • Monday, November 3, 2014

    More on Hello Kitty Con...

    a hug from the famous Kitty
    When I started blogging a number of years back, I didn't know there might be special perks associated with being a blogger.  Recently I was thrilled that I was able to snag a special invitation to the Hello Kitty Con press preview and VIP party because of my blog!  I've lived in Los Angeles nearly all my life, but I'm not exactly a regular at red carpet events.  This was my first time attending such a large gathering as "press"--not only did we get to see the convention's exhibits without the massive sold-out crowds that were there during the convention, we got a fabulous swag bag filled with Hello Kitty themed freebies (many of which you had to stand in line for FIVE or SIX hours during the convention to buy at a special store for convention attendees only!)

    with my swag bag and several Hello Kitty girls
    I also attended a glamorous party on-site, complete with open bar (Hello Kitty-themed grown-up drinks, of course), adorable Hello Kitty food, and of course music as well.

    cupcakes featuring Hello Kitty and her iconic bow

    This was the first-ever Hello Kitty convention, which lasted for four days in Los Angeles and completely sold out the 25,000 tickets available.  Organized by Sanrio in celebration of Hello Kitty's 40th anniversary, fans came from all over the country to attend (and perhaps all over the world, although I didn't talk to any from abroad).  Like Comic-Con, Star Wars cons, and other such events, the four days were filled with exhibits, expert panels, workshops, costume contests, art classes, and of course, plenty of shopping opportunities.  The press preview had just a few hundred guests, so it was great to be able to see all the exhibits without the huge crowds that were there when I came back with my regular ticket on Friday.  The convention was held in the Geffen Contemporary, a large, warehouse like space in Little Tokyo that is part of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).  It is conveniently next door to the Japanese-American National Museum, which is also hosting a special Hello Kitty exhibit (Hello! Exploring the Supercute world of Hello Kitty) which runs until the end of April.  The museum (and of course its store) was open to all convention attendees free of charge.

    Japanese-American National Museum

    Sanrio was founded 55 years ago as a company to promote friendship through small gifts, and the first Hello Kitty product produced cost less than the equivalent of $1 (in yen, of course).  The company was known for small inexpensive products such as pencils, stickers, and small toys, although now Sanrio licenses with celebrity designers such as Tarina Tarentino (see my last post for more on that topic) for more upscale products as well.  As one would expect, the exhibits were full of Hello Kitty products on display, including the original first coin purse, now kept in a vault in Japan but sent to the convention for exhibit.

    original Hello Kitty coin purse
    It was displayed in its own darkened room, with a beautiful display case, much as one might see the Crown Jewels or the Hope Diamond!  There was also a huge reproduction of the original coin purse, set up for photos ops.

    In a Hello Kitty house, each room was filled with Hello Kitty merchandise from over the years.  I particularly admired the office.

    Hello Kitty's office

    The highlight of the convention for me was the pop-up designer shops, set up as a Japanese marketplace, complete with Zen garden.

    These pop-up shops included special items produced for the convention by Sanrio licensees such as Sephora (which was doing free makeovers), Dr. Dre (who knew he liked Hello Kitty?) Dylan's Candy Bar, Spam, and a variety of toy and clothing manufacturers, including Japan LA, a fashion designer who featured special SimpsonsXHello Kitty clothing.

    There were lots of fun photo ops with very kawaii (Japanese for cute) Lolita girls decked out in Hello Kitty gear, and even a chance to have a photo with the Kitty herself.  Art was also a big part of the displays--there were lots of Hello Kitty inspired paintings, ceramics, and even a tattoo studio tattoo where you could get free tattoos. Sanrio artists were even signing free personalized drawings.

    I returned on Friday for the actual convention, and was exceedingly grateful I had been there for the press preview since during the regular convention the place was packed with happy Hello Kitty fans of all ages!  Lots of fun but lots of lines.  Luckily I had had a chance to peruse all the exhibits when I was there Wednesday night.  I was impressed by the very well-behaved smallest fans--I didn't overhear any whining from the kids about lines or anything else.  Kids and grown-ups could participate in special art classes to learn to draw Hello Kitty (not as easy as she looks), decorate a Hello Kitty pumpkin, and make Hello Kitty sand art and coloring sheets, among other activities.  There was even an arcade where you could play games for free and win Hello Kitty prizes, all lots of fun for the kids.  Hello Kitty fans attending ranged from babies in strollers to an elderly Japanese couple I noticed, who must have been in their mid-80's at least.  I even met a group of 3 generations of Hello Kitty fans--a mom, grandma, and daughter, all decked out in costumes.

    grandma and granddaughter Hello Kitty fans

    On Friday I was able to attend a highly coveted workshop (these all sold out well in advance) with jewelry designer Onch Movement.  We were all able to make a special Hello Kitty necklace that was designed by Onch and available only to those who participated in the workshop--very exclusive!  Onch himself was adorable and came around to help everyone and pose for pictures.  Luckily I was sitting next to a very nice lady who had lots of jewelry making experience because I needed a lot of help working with those tiny rings.

    Onch and there I am in the second row with my red Hello Kitty shirt!
    When I left the convention I was on a definite Hello Kitty high with all the adorableness of Sanrio and the nice people I had met.  Here's hoping the Hello Kitty con will become an annual event!

    For more on Hello Kitty and reading, I will be doing a guest post on the ALSC blog later this month.

    If you're a real Hello Kitty fan, you can check out my on-line photo album at Flickr--lots more really fun pictures.  As you scroll over the pictures, you can read my captions as well.

    Saturday, November 1, 2014

    The answer you've been waiting for? Is she a cat or a girl? Hello Kitty Con Post #1

    Off my usual blogging subjects, I am going to share some details of the first ever Hello Kitty con!

    I was so fortunate to be able to attend the sold-out con going on in Los Angeles this weekend.  I love all things "kawaii" (Japanese for cute) and signed up for the convention as soon as I read about it on Sanrio's website.  I attended the press preview and VIP party (!) on Wednesday night (more on that to follow) and then went to the Con as a regular participant on Friday.  My favorite experience was an all-star panel  on Friday with Yuko Yamaguchi, Sanrio Tokyo’s head Hello Kitty designer, and fashion jewelry designer to the stars Tarina Tarantino.

    The two first met ten years ago at the time of Hello Kitty’s 30th anniversary, when Tarina designed her first Hello Kitty collection.  Tarina, looking suitably kawaii (cute) with her signature bright pink hair, told us that she discovered Hello Kitty in the late 1970’s when her grandparents brought her some small gifts from Japan decorated with the very simple but adorable cat.  Soon after, Hello Kitty went on sale in the US and Tarina reminisced about collecting Hello Kitty from a Bullocks (a now defunct department store) display when she was a girl in Los Angeles.  “I have to pinch myself” Tarina said, when she thinks that now she designs jewelry collections featuring the iconic figure.  She called Yuko her Japanese soul-sister and says she wants to play dress-up in Yuko’s closet some day when she is in Tokyo!

    I furiously took notes during the panel so that I could share some of the fascinating accounts.  Here's some of the highlights...

    Tarina: Could you tell us about the back story of Hello Kitty?

    Yuko:  When I first met Hello Kitty in 1980, it was two years after I started working for Sanrio.  At that time Hello Kitty was not the most popular Sanrio character.  Even I didn’t think of Hello Kitty as a valuable asset.  At that time, Little Twin Stars was the most popular Sanrio character and dominated their sales.  Sanrio’s founder was concerned that Hello Kitty’s popularity was not growing, and was looking for a designer to take on the task of building her brand.  But no designer wants to be assigned to a character that’s not popular.  The Sanrio founder asked all the designers to present new designs for Hello Kitty.  I thought that the key to re-invent Hello Kitty was not the visual, but creating different stories.  According to Sanrio’s own newsletter, Hello Kitty dreamed of becoming a professional pianist, but you never saw her playing the piano, so that’s what I drew.  As a child I took piano lessons and had a grand piano at my home, so I imagined Hello Kitty had a grand piano.

    I also imagined that Hello Kitty’s mom was a pianist, and her father must have a well-paying job to be able to afford that grand piano.  I presented the story of Hello Kitty and her family and then was told that I should be the Hello Kitty designer—not because I was the best artist but because I had the imagination and was willing to present my ideas, that’s why I was chosen. 

    There was a lot of pressure to develop a character that wasn’t popular.  I was talking to Hello Kitty every day.  When did Hello Kitty talk back?  I will never forget in the fall of 1985 she spoke back to me for the first time.  After five years she because the #1 character at Sanrio.  This is what Hello Kitty told me after five years:  “We did it!”  At that time I decided to take it up a notch, for her to be the #1 character in Japan.  But Hello Kitty didn’t say anything.  In the spring of 1997 many years later she became the #1 brand in Japan...

    Hello Kitty has become another form of myself.  At that time I wasn’t sure if I was Hello Kitty or Hello Kitty was me.  I made a promise to make her the #1 character in the world!

    Tarina:  On the question that has consumed portions of the Internet lately, as to whether Hello Kitty is a cat or a girl…

    Yuko:  Since I met Hello Kitty, I thought of her as Hello Kitty.  She’s not a cat and she’s not a human.  I just want Hello Kitty to be a role model and the question as to whether she’s a cat or a human is not relevant.  But I can tell you for sure that Charmmy Kitty (Hello Kitty’s pet cat) is a cat.  Snoopy is a dog—because he only speaks the language of dogs.  So what’s Mickey Mouse?  I don’t think he’s a mouse, he’s Mickey Mouse.  So Hello Kitty is Hello Kitty and it is my wish to continue to nurture her as a very special brand.

    Charmmy Kitty 

    Tarina:  What characters were you influenced by growing up?

    Yuko:  As a child I loved Mickey Mouse and Disney.  I always wanted to go to Disneyland as a child but the US seemed much farther away in those days.  [When I finally went to the United States and visited Disneyland] I asked Mickey Mouse to autograph my passport.  I got into a lot of trouble with immigration!

    Yuko concluded by saying that what she wants for Hello Kitty is not the life that Mickey Mouse lives.  "I want her to be a role model—a singer, dancer, and of course, pianist.  Then she can be an actress and win an Oscar." She also compared Hello Kitty to Lady Gaga!

    More on the con (and more photos) to follow!