4th Annual African American Children's Book Fair at the Lewis Museum

WHAT: African American Children's Book Fair
WHERE: Reginal F. Lewis Museum
WHEN: May 14, 2016, 12-4pm
COST: Free, and you receive one free book per family while supplies last

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Check out the 4th Annual African American Children's Book Fair. There will be author readings, illustration workshops, live performances, and craft activities. You can also add to your book collection by buying some hard-to-find titles in the Book Village.

Many authors and illustrators (including some Marylanders) will be on-hand, so maybe you can even get a signed copy of your new favorite book! Participating authors and illustrators include: Everett Todd Adams, Family Sekou Afrika, Tiffany Alexander, Rebecca Bishop, Shenell Bolden, Marjuan Canady, Veronica Chapman, Bryan Collier, Delores Connor, Israel Cook, Floyd Cooper, Jerry Craft, Ali DaCosta, Frantz Derenoncourt, Shawna Doyle, Zetta Elliott, Sharon Flake, Gina Humbler, Kenji L. Jackson, London Ladd,  Kelly Starling Lyons, Jerdine Nolen, James Ransome, Lena Cline Ransome, Sherika Sadler, Shadra Strickland, Renee Watson, Carole Boston Weatherford, Jeff Weatherford, and Mariama Whack.

In 2013, just three our of one hundred children's books published were about African Americans. The African American Children's Book Fair was organized to "encourage literacy, promote a reading culture, and establish family engagement that convenes parents and children around interest, enthusiasm, and excitement for African American children's books." RSVPs are appreciated.

Shape Shift Activity

I've been playing with shapes... yes, still. This time it turned into a video. I think this would be a great activity to do at home. Just grab a few items:

1. paper to cut into shapes
2. 1 piece of acetate
3. 1 dry erase marker. (Careful, they stain.)

You can work on a light colored surface. Cut the paper into various geometric shapes. Arrange two or more shapes on top of your work surface. Place the acetate on top. Take a look! What do you see? Use the dry erase marker to add details and turn the shapes into art. 

The challenge here is to see how many ideas you can come up with, so when you finish the first one, erase (take a picture first if you like) and make another. Have fun, and share your art on our Facebook page!

Book Signing at Greetings and Readings, Hunt Valley, MD

WHAT: Book Signing for Shape Shift
WHERE: Greetings and Readings
WHEN: May 7, 2016 from 3:30 to 5pm

Up next! I'll be at Greetings and Readings signing books. I like how Greetings and Readings supports local authors and illustrators. I also like how they've strategically timed book-signings so you can stop by and visit the author (that's me), browse for some other great stuff, and still have plenty of time to stroll over to some of the great restaurants in Hunt Valley Towne Centre before the tables fill up.

There. Saturday night is planned.

Happy Spring... and Bluebirds

I needed Spring this year. Maybe a little more than most years. And it's finally here. Our little bluebird house is full of eggs. Five perfect little eggs. Spring. Thank you. 

My daughter keeps track, and logs the nest's changes on Nest Watch, a site developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's handy having a resident ornithologist. She makes sure we all approach the nest properly, from the side. She knocks first, and then quickly unscrews the lid and we peek. We only look for a minute, and then check the area to see if we can spot the parents anywhere. The lid goes back on and we wait some more.

Soon there will be babies. Ugly, naked, disgusting babies. They will look like something from a horror show for the first few days. 

I can't wait, because to me they are going to be absolutely beautiful...


Innovation Saturday at St. James

WHAT: A (Cool) Progeny Play Date, Activities Designed for Ages 3-12
WHERE: St. James Academy, 3100 Monkton Rd, Monkton, MD 21111
WHEN: Saturday, April 2, 2016
COST: Free, with a family pass

Innovation Saturday is coming soon! It's a free morning of creative fun. There will be lots of activities to get your pint-sized inventors, well, inventing. I'll be there, with my new book AND a shape-based collage activity. Guava Jelly will be keeping us entertained with their pop/rock/reggae music and Automoblox will have a special auto engineering station. While you are there, you can check out the St. James campus, and meet some of the staff. This event is free, but you need to reserve a family pass because space is limited. Hope to see you there!

They Might Be Giants

WHAT: TMBG at the USA Science & Engineering Festival
WHEN: Saturday, April 16, 2016, 1pm-1:50pm
WHERE: Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC
WEBSITE: http://www.usasciencefestival.org/

Clockwise from left, Joyce Hesselberth, John Flansburgh, Dave Plunkert, and John Linnell

Clockwise from left, Joyce Hesselberth, John Flansburgh, Dave Plunkert, and John Linnell

We've been TMBG fans for a long time, since before kids (Do you measure time as BK and AK too?). After kids, we still listened. Their albums were, and are, a constant in our house. We decided to go see them in concert last night, at Rams Head Live. The show was for adults only, but because TMBG has so many great songs for kids, and even a few albums for kids, I thought I would mention their upcoming concert for kids at the USA Science Festival in DC. Details about the show are here, and of course there is a lot more to see at the festival, so check it out!

After the show, we stepped backstage to chat with John Flansburgh and John Linnell. Full disclosure, TMBG is also a client of our studio. One of our latest projects was a stop-motion animation for "I  Am Alone." 

I love seeing how this band has evolved over the years. One thing is for sure—with three new albums out in the last fifteen months, they are still going strong.

Thanks, Friends!

A big thank you to everyone who came out to visit me at aMuse Toys! Spending the morning reading my book and making art was a perfect way to launch my new book. Though I admit I was a tiny bit nervous that it would be hard for everyone to brave the snow.

Turns out I had nothing to fear. Lots of new friends showed up to read with me.

And then we made some art! Don't worry, this kid isn't as sad as he seems. But seriously, look at that amazing collage.

I'm hoping to visit more schools, museums, and stores soon, so if you didn't get a chance, there's more to come. Of course, you can also order Shape Shift online.

Book Signing and Collage Activity at aMuse Toys

WHAT: Book reading, signing, and collage activity
WHERE: aMuse Toys at Quarry Lake
WHEN: January 24, 2016
HOW MUCH: FREE, but registration is required.

My new book Shape Shift officially launches on this month, published by Henry Holt. If I were any more excited about this one, I would probably explode. This is the first book I both wrote and illustrated, so it's extra special for me.

And, to celebrate, aMuse Toys at Quarry Lake is hosting a book signing and activity. My book is an introduction to shapes, for kids ages 2-6, but it also encourages kids to combine shapes creatively to make their own beautiful art.


Come by and make a collage with me, or just say hi. I hope to see you there!

Springerle Cookies

I've been thinking a lot about family and tradition. You know, tis the season and yadda yadda yadda. My daughter had to bring a family recipe to class to share. I think that's what started me down this path. She brought a German potato salad recipe that my family has always made. Then the project shifted, and she had to bring in the actual dish for a class feast. Can you believe that potato salad is not that popular of a dish to share in high school? Me neither. Apparently the people who brought in cookies were more well received. Also, a big bowl of potato salad is hard to store in your locker. Lesson learned.

But it got me thinking about more family recipes. It really only takes a generation and bam, there's a new tradition. My family is largely German and English, but came to this country so long ago that old country traditions have meandered a bit. Springerle cookies are German in heritage, but I don't know where this recipe came from. All I know is it's the only one that counts. It has my mom's notes on the side, so it's the real deal. To be perfectly honest, we called them "punishment cookies" which does not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement. They are supposed to sit in a tin for about a month with an orange or apple to soften a bit. However, there was always something slightly addictive about these, so they were gobbled up way before then, rock hard or not. Hence the nickname. They are also anise-flavored, and I know that's a love-it or hate-it flavor for a lot of people. So before I completely talk you out of it, let's get to the recipe.


Translation for the note on the side: use 1 pound confectioners sugar.

I asked my dad to send me the springerle rolling pin. He agreed, but only if I would send him cookies in exchange, every year, forever. Seems like a fair trade to me. I mean, I probably could buy a rolling pin on ebay, but it's not the same if it's not *this* rolling pin, right? You can't just buy traditions.


So now we wait. Or not. They smell so good, maybe just one...

Daytrip to DC

I don't know why I don't take advantage of Washington DC more often, but the annoyance of the traffic and parking is a big part of the reason, so my plan on this trip was to dodge all of it, and take the MARC train and Metro all the way. It's so easy. The MARC train leaves from Penn Station. $7 per person gets you all the way to DC, efficiently and even fairly comfortably. Buy roundtrip tickets at the ticket counter and you can head home anytime. Trains run at least hourly throughout the day, but check the weekday or weekend schedule.

The end of the line is Union Station. I purchased and preloaded SmartTrip Cards and Charm Cards ahead of time for the Metro. This was totally worthwhile, especially when we cut our train home too close. Fumbling with ticket purchases is probably my least favorite part of public transportation and SmartTrip Cards/Charm Cards are not only interchangeable, they work on MTA light rail and buses too. We sailed through the Metro. Red line to Metro Center. Blue, Orange, or Silver Line to Smithsonian. Wow, I love a well-designed subway map. If you just keep track of which endpoint you are heading toward, you are all set.

We arrived at the Mall at a lousy time. Too close to lunch. My kids were mostly interested in the Museum of Natural History, so we headed there. The cafe had an incredibly long line. The guy at the information both pointed out that it was overpriced too. Even he recommended packing a lunch next time. Touché, information booth guy. I certainly will next time, but this time we were stuck with sub-par food trucks.

Still, the Museum of Natural History was a winner. Afterall, how can you not like a butterfly garden?

And I am always surprised, but my second favorite exhibit is probably gemstones, because honestly quartz is beautiful...

...and topaz is awesome.

Personally, I'm not that wowed by the Hope Diamond, but it's there too.

My kids transformed themselves into homo neanderthalensis and homo floresiensis in the Human Origins Exhibit. Adorable, aren't they?

We headed outside to enjoy some ice cream and walk along the Mall.


While I would have loved to explore the Washington Monument, you have to get there by no later that 6:30am to buy tickets, so clearly, that is never, ever, ever going to happen. At least we could enjoy the outside.

Next, we headed to the Air and Space Museum. I hadn't been before but again, you could get absorbed with the exhibits for the whole day. I loved the Wilbur and Orville Wright exhibit, but the Lunar Landings were also incredibly interesting. No good pics of this one, but I assure you it's worth the time.

We decided to head home. We raced back to the Metro so that we wouldn't have to wait an hour for the next departure time. Trains were incredibly easy to catch and I noticed a certain confidence as my travel companions kept up with my pace, or was it the other way around? Blue line to Metro Center. Red line to Union Station. And a mad dash to the MARC train. They were like spy kids, deftly managing the escalators and we made it with exactly one minute to spare. Proud mom moment. No lost kids. Did I mention I made them write my cell phone number on their arms before we left. Yep. I did. We need to get that one committed to memory, just in case.


Drop and Doodle

This week I'm hanging out at with Heather at Cool Progeny. My official title is guest doodler. Pretty impressive, don't you think? Heather has started a new project which I wholly endorse. Drop Everything and Doodle is a challenge to spend a few minutes each week drawing with your kids. This is a moment to share and connect and just be silly. And, if you're feeling brave, please share your doodles on instagram or twitter with #dropanddoodle.

Each week Heather will be giving a one word prompt. This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, the prompt is "love." So grab those markers, or crayons, or pencils and get to it!

PrestoBingo Colors Educational App is Here!

Today’s the big day! We are launching our new children’s educational app on the app store — PrestoBingo Colors!

Our studio has been developing this app for over a year. Designing, drawing, coding, testing and re-testing and it’s finally ready. The colors are divided into 3 levels. If your little one is just beginning to learn colors, you can set the app to level one and cover the basics: black, blue, brown, gray, green, orange, pink, purple, red, white and yellow. Level two covers intermediate colors like turquoise, lavender and peach. And, just in case that’s not challenging enough, you can check out level three for super-advanced color. You do know what loden is, right? How about vermillion and chartreuse?

We hope you enjoy our app. You can download it from the app store here. Read more about our app projects on the PrestoBingo website, including our first app PrestoBingo Shapes


Stop Motion Project (introducing Mr. Sea Horse)

Animation is a recent obsession of my son's. It is entirely possible that he's found a loophole in the limited screen-time rule. He's using my iPhone to make these, and I'm planning on moving him over to my iPad, which admittedly is an even larger screen.

But when I watch what he's doing, I can't help but love it. He's drawing. He's telling stories. He's taking hundreds of pictures and so patiently moving his drawings bit by bit. He's even editing and adding sound. Here is his first story:

And the story continues...

I'm curious to see how far this project will go. If you would like to try your own, the app we are using is Stop Motion Studio.  I highly recommend it. It's a free app, with add-ons you can purchase if you need them. We also attached my iPhone to a tripod with this tripod mount. All we need now is better lighting and a stable work table and he will have a pretty decent animation studio.

So good, in fact, that I might just use it myself.

Foe: an Installation by Wayne White

WHAT: a cardboard sculpture installation by Wayne White
WHERE: Marketview Arts, York College Gallery (3rd floor) 37 W. Philadelphia Street, York PA
WHEN: April 4 - May 20, 2014, Monday through Saturday, 10am-4pm

We took a quick road trip to York, PA this weekend to see an exhibit by the artist Wayne White. Wayne White is best known for his work as a puppeteer and set designer for Pee Wee's Playhouse. Remember that show? He also art-directed Peter Gabriel’s music video "Big Time." I didn’t know his name at the time, but as an art student in college, I saw his work everywhere, and it was very influential to me. 


The focus of the show is the Civil War. White chose this topic to tie into York’s local history and specifically the invasion of York by General Jubal Early and his Confederate soldiers. The scale and detail of this show is incredible. Cubist-inspired figures loom 20 feet above. 

This installation

And yet the simplest details were equally entertaining. 


A few of the sculptures are actually giant puppets, with ropes to pull that control their movement.


This show has to be one of the best gallery shows I have seen in a long time. It’s not one to miss and I am sure my entire family would agree. That might be what I loved best about the show. It’s so accessible, yet smart. It practically begs you to start playing with shapes and forms. It left us itching to empty the recycling bin and see what we could make. 


A Tiny Healthcare Rant, and a Tip

I've been watching our healthcare costs skyrocket. Have you? I know some of these changes are for the good, and I'm trying to just wait out the chaos. We're self-employed, and therefore have always been self-insured. Our insurance has more than doubled in the last two years. Now I've realized there is a new thing I need to watch – the cost of prescription medicines. I always thought that they cost what they cost. Maybe that was naive of me. I knew my prescription card probably gave me a bit of a discount, but for the most part I assumed we were all on a semi-even playing field. 

We are not.

My kids have mild seasonal allergies. Nothing big. But recently I've been shopping around. Long story short, today I held two bottles of the same medicine in my hands. Same brand, same dosage, same store, same everything. One cost $14.00. One cost $125.00. The pharmacist seemed only slightly surprised which makes me think this happens all the time. 

Shop around. The website I used was goodrx.com. I highly recommend it. When I saw the crazy-high price today, I pulled out my phone, showed the pharmacist the price I wanted and it was fixed in a jiffy. My question? If it costs less than $14.00 to make this drug, where does all the extra money go?


Spur Gallery Presents – Eureka!

What: Gallery Opening of Eureka! Impractical Solutions
Where: Spur Gallery, 
3504 Ash Street, Baltimore, MD 21211
When: April 26, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

You may know that both Dave and I regularly teach classes at MICA. Dave’s class this semester is a grad-level class on the illustrated poster. This show is designed and installed by his class. So stop by, see some great art, and chat with the illustrators and designers. Details on the show are posted below:

Illustration by Kevin Valente

Illustration by Kevin Valente

Eureka! Impractical Solutions

How does hair grow? Why do boats float? Where do dreams come from?

The answers might surprise you.

Designers and creative professionals approach problem-solving in unconventional ways. In Eureka!, MICA graduate illustrators and designers use impractical and unfettered thinking to create posters that propose new solutions to old questions.

Featuring the work of Yu Chen, Sarah Claggett, Jasu Hu, Sarah Jacoby, Winnie Kuo, Jackie Littman, Sally Maier, Valleria Molinari, Shiva Nallperumal, Sara Shahabi, Iris Sprague, Kevin Valente, Lolo Zhang, and guided by David Plunkert.

Join us for the opening reception at the Spur Gallery on Saturday, April 26, 6:30 - 8:30 pm. Free and open to the public.

Jeremy Holmes, Children's Book Illustrator


When Jeremy Holmes’ first book, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly came out I thought it was ground-breaking. How could something so creepy yet beautiful get published for children? It is a brilliant re-telling of a classic story, and definitely worth adding to your bookshelf.

I've been paying attention to his work ever since, and recently invited him to come to MICA to discuss his process with my students. He brought tons of printed books and original drawings and sketches.

Jeremy is a designer turned illustrator. His sense of type merges so beautifully with his illustrations. The amount of time he puts into each piece, especially the newer ones, is mind-boggling. I love the result. Jeremy might be one of the hardest working illustrators I know. But his work is smart too, which is a pretty great combination.

If you have an older reader, check out The Templeton Twins, written by Ellis Weiner and illustrated by Jeremy. This series follows John and Abigail Templeton, twins with a tendency for adventure who get kidnapped by... wait for it... a set of twins.


We even got a look at the original art for his new book which just hit the bookstores in January – Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems, by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian.


Seeing his pencil drawings on vellum was inspiring. The coloring process was intense too, with many variations, but I think you'll agree that the result was completely worth it.