Green Day

Mother Earth needs our help. Easier said than done, right? The challenges are enormous and it’s tempting to simply buy a reusable grocery bag and call it a day. But every little bit–including that reusable grocery bag–helps, and plenty of options exist to make the world a cleaner place. But where to start? According to Jen Gale in The Sustaninable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know to make small changes that make a big difference (Green Tree, 296 $16), taking Draconian measures to “go green” aren’t necessary to make significant change. Gale knows, because she went to those extremes by undertaking an entire year without buying a single new item for her and her family, which she chronicled on her website. That experience, though difficult, revealed that she and her family (which included two young children) were capable of becoming more thoughtful consumers. But going whole hog isn’t for everyone, and this book grew out of a desire to permanently change her behavior without having to pull up stakes and move to Amish country.

Sustainable(ish) provides easy, achievable ideas on how to reduce consumption and help save the planet. Topics run to the usual suspects, like reducing food and plastic waste, as well as the more unexpected and thought-provoking, from an examination of the astounding amount of waste that goes into producing our clothes to how the most mundane of items, like markers and baby wipes, can be toxic for the planet.  Each chapter follows a similar pattern of laying out the statistics, providing Gale’s experience with the problem, and a series of suggestions for the reader to implement that become progressively more involved.

Engagingly optimistic, there is much here to help readers find their way to a cleaner, greener future, but financial stats provided in pounds and UK-based resources will leave many American readers wondering where to turn for further guidance, but that is easily remedied via a quick online search. Our choices matter, and Gale helps us take realistic action that will benefit the health of our planet and the next generation–in other words, this is the earth-friendly guidebook for all of us.

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Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos Debut TV Series on PBS That’s Anything But “Ordinary”

The men who brought you the Ordinary People Change the World book series have created a TV show! Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum premiered November 11, 2019. I spoke with author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Chris Eliopoulos about how they paired up, why they like writing and drawing, and what they hope kids will learn from the new series.

Chris and Brad share a love of comic books, and got closer with the power of Twitter. Brad proposed they write a series, and Chris was happy to help. They’ve written dozens of books in the Ordinary People series since 2014.

You might be a bit curious about the name of the new TV series: Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum isn’t something you hear too often. As a kid, Brad always liked names with the letter X in them. Xavier is one of these rare few. He also loved riddles. Puzzling things out was a favorite activity of his. Hence the name, Xavier Riddle.

Brad was inspired to become a writer thanks to his ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Spicer. She told him he could write. Brad was dubious — he didn’t expect to be a writer. However, when he wrote his first book, he visited his teacher’s classroom, thirty years later, and said to her, “My name is Brad Meltzer, and I wrote this book for you.” The teacher started crying. When he asked her why, she explained that she was planning on retiring that year, because she didn’t think she influenced anyone. Clearly, she was wrong.

I Am Marie Curie

Brad picks his subjects with a particular characteristic in mind: “I always chose a hero, not because they’re famous, but because their life provides a lesson that I can give my own kids, and, truthfully, that I need myself.” The hero’s childhood is what strikes Brad as the most interesting for young readers. When talking about his biography of Amelia Earhart, Brad said that, “I loved the idea that there was this little girl, and everyone said to her, ‘You’re never going to be successful. You’re never going to be able to do what you want to do.’ And she just didn’t care. She just kept plowing forward. She wouldn’t let anything stop her. That’s the lesson I want for my sons, it’s a lesson I want with my daughter.”

Now let’s talk about the illustrator. Chris always knew he was talented at art, especially as a kid. “If you’d asked me back then, ‘Would you rather go to Disneyland or would you rather sit and draw pictures?’ I’d rather draw,” he said. He grew up a shy child, and Chris drew pictures to tell other people what he was feeling. “I would give these drawings to my parents, and they would read these stories and go, ‘Oh, okay, now we know what’s going on in Chris’s life.’” As an adult, he decided that he wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.

Brad and Chris work closely when it comes to the book or television creating process, as Chris explained: “Brad writes a script, and then sends it to me, and we talk about it a little bit, and then I go off and I draw the whole book out in pencil, so that everybody can see it. We decide if something works or doesn’t work. He’ll suggest things, or I’ll throw things in. Once everybody’s in agreement, I go back and I fix the things that need fixing, and I ink it up in ink, and then I send it back again. And then they all decide what looks good, what looks bad, what needs to be fixed. And then I go back and fix it, and then I color the whole book and I send it back.”

I Am Walt Disney Cover

Sometimes, the people in the books have a say in how the book will look. During the creation of I Am Caring: A Little Book About Jane Goodall, for example, Jane read the book and made Chris go back and re-draw over ten pages because she was holding hands with wild animals in the pictures, and she didn’t find that appropriate for children. Chris told me that it was tiring to go back and redraw so many pages, but, in the end, the book did turn out to be better!

When I told Chris that his work seemed to resemble the Peanuts cartoons, he replied, “They’re my favorite thing in the whole wide world!” he explained why he adored them: “Peanuts was the biggest influence in my life. When I was a little kid, my uncle owned a remaindered book shop — basically where all the leftover books went. I used to take all of the Peanuts books–I still have them here in my studio–and I would just read them, cover to cover, all the time.” As he got older, Chris discovered Calvin and Hobbes, a popular cartoon by Bill Watterson about a boy and his tiger. Look at Chris’s drawings: big heads, tiny bodies, strange squished faces. The Peanuts cartoons look quite similar.

Xavier Riddle aims to teach kids the same message that the books do: that kids, no matter what, can be extraordinary. Brad said that making sure these stories are exciting is important to keep kids interested: “If you remind kids that these aren’t the stories of famous people, this is what we’re all capable of on our very best days, suddenly kids will look and go, ‘tell me more about that.’”

Abigail C. Richter is a fifth grader and lives with her parents and two basset hounds in New York. 

Tourists Overwhelm Beatrix Potter’s Beloved Lake District

Last month, the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) issued a statement declaring that off road vehicles would not be banned from the park, a move that has upset some locals who say dirtbikes and cars are ruining the countryside. 

**This article has been updated with new information.**

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017, the Lake District has welcomed a surge of visitors over the past twenty years, and not all sightseers have left the land as they found it: according to a recent report in The Guardian, off road vehicles, 4x4s, and dirtbikes are increasinglychewing up the delicate lands forged in the last Ice Age, damaging dirt roads and surrounding fields. Farmers complain that the roads are so poor that they cannot drive their equipment on them anymore.

The Lake District ‘s spokesperson Sarah Burrows said in a recent email that The Guardian’s article “is inaccurate and, as such, we wrote to the editor in response. We highlighted that the headline Lake District heritage at risk as thrill-seekers ‘chew up’ idyllic trails is misleading and inflammatory, furthermore, parts of the article itself are factually incorrect. The two public roads are open to all users and make up just 0.09 per cent of our rights of way network, so to infer that this is a Lake District-wide ‘problem’ is misleading. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of people enjoying the national park’s 3,280km of trails are highly unlikely to encounter recreational motorists on these routes.”

Lake District residents say the tension between meeting the wants of tourists while preserving the bucolic landscape is at least a decade in the making. In 2006, the LDNPA posted the now-ubiquitous red and white “hierarchy of trails” guides, notifying visitors of proper road etiquette, however local groups say these signs have only encouraged thrill-seekers to take their ATVs off roading. Members of the Save the Lake District Group say that vehicles using these roads have leapt from 90 a month in 2008 to over 400 in 2017. Burrows, meanwhile, provided usage data on the LDNPA website saying that tracking motorized vehicles on the roads has been historically spotty and that the numbers quoted by Save the Lake District “may not be very reliable.” The LDNPA report goes on to state that it has noticed a decrease on vehicular traffic on those roads that have been repaired.

The roads bearing the brunt of these adventure seekers are High Tilberthwaite and High Oxenfell. Part of the appeal lies in these roads’ proximity to Potter’s farm, which she purchased in 1929 and is now part of the National Trust. Meanwhile, the LDNPA maintains that the Lake District trails have historically been a mix of dirt, asphalt, and stone, and that recent severe weather has deteriorated the roads that now require repair. Paving these highly trafficked roads would keep motorists from destroying the surrounding area, and the LDNPA posted before and after images of repaired roads on its website, where some of the “before” roads look downright impassable, but Save the Lake District maintains that these pictures aren’t telling the whole story.

Earlier this month, LDNPA committee members voted not to ban ATVs from trails despite a recommendation from the International Council on Monuments and Sites suggesting that banning these vehicles would drastically improve the quality of the trails and preserve the beauty of the area. The latest vote has lead to frustrated protests and angry outbursts from locals, who fear that this is only another step towards stripping the Lake District of its charm and turning it into a roadside attraction.

Burrows counters that the LDNPA is trying to meet the needs of all park users. “As a national park representing everyone’s right to enjoyment, the decision to restrict anyone’s right to use these roads must not be taken lightly. In line with government guidance, legal intervention through a TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) is a last resort and we should explore other management options first. We completed a comprehensive evidence gathering exercise and the findings were presented to our Rights of Way Committee on 8 October where Members decided on the future management of these roads and whether or not a TRO is required.

“The decisions we have to take are often complex, but we do this in an open and transparent way so that everyone can see in detail what the perceived issues are, how we’ve gathered our evidence, and how we’ve come to the reasoning behind our recommendation to committee,” Burrows wrote. The committee’s findings can be read here

Jennifer Morla’s Career-Spanning, Kickstarter-funded Autobiography Makes a Splash

Entitled, fittingly, Morla: Design, this Kickstarter-funded memoir explores the career of Jennifer Morla her creative process, design philosophy, and provides behind-the-scenes stories about various high profile projects like her campaigns for Swatch, Levi’s, and Nordstrom.

MorlaDesign_Stories
Reproduced with permission from Letterform Archives.

Though an autobiography, Morla is a designer, and so it makes sense that her story be draped in a style that speaks to her lively aesthetic. There’s neon bookmark ribbons, metallic inks, vacuum-formed, debossed white covers, and bold stripes that all manage to play well together.  In other words, the designer’s touch is visible on every inch of the book.

MorlaDesign_RegularOverhead
Reproduced with permission from Letterform Archives.

Essays and insight fill the 400+ page volume, spanning Morla’s career and providing advice to design acolytes. Typohiles, meanwhile, have plenty to rejoice about: Morla explores twenty-six of her most beloved typefaces, from newer fonts to her “oldest typographic friends.” The designer waxes poetic over the sloping curves of the italic Garamond C to when she fell in love at first sight with Obsidian when it first appeared in 2015.
Earning over 300 accolades including the Cooper Hewitt award, the AIGA medal, and the Smithsonian Design Museum National Award, Morla’s work is found in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress and MOMA, and when not running her design firm, Morla teaches at the California College of the Arts. Her book is a vibrant reflection of a designer whose work combines type and image to express a range of concepts. “Design,” as Morla writes, “is understanding made visible.”

Counting Crows…and Robins, Jays, and Chickadees

Bird Count_interior-7
Copyright 2019 Susan Richmond and Stephanie Coleman. Reproduced with permission from Peachtree.

Bird Count, by Susan Edwards Richmond, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Peachtree Publishers; $17.95, ages 4-8. October 2019.

Fall birdwatching is more challenging now that mating season is over–the bright plumage of some birds gives way to more muted tones–but scouting them out is excellent preparation for the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. In Susan Edward Richmond’s first children’s book, Bird Count, Ava, whose name is Latin for “like a bird,” is tasked with recording and identifying birds for the wintertime roundup.

Bird Count_interior-10
Copyright 2019 Susan Richmond and Stephanie Coleman. Reproduced with permission from Peachtree.

A bird can only be counted if at least two people confirm hearing or seeing it, so Ava must pay close attention with her eyes and ears. The singsongy text flies with ease from one page to the next, while young readers can keep abreast of Ava’s bird tally in the page margins. Stephanie Coleman’s deft illustrations of mallards, mergansers, and merlins prove the adage that practice makes perfect: last year she challenged herself to paint one bird a day for 100 days. (See the entire flock here.)

A joyous introduction to birdwatching while also fostering a love of the outdoors, Bird Count will delight fledgling ornithologists as well as wise old owls.

 

Fish Tales at Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival

 

Martha’s Vineyard’s reputation as a haven for writers and poets is well-documented–Dorothy West, Art Buchwald, David McCullough, and Judy Blume represent a few who have called the island home–and since 2005 the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival has brought authors from far and wide to celebrate reading and writing. Originally conceived as a biannual event, the free festival turned into an annual August rite starting in 2015. The brainchild of Suellen Lazarus, a former director at the World Bank Group and longtime summer Island resident, the festival is modeled on the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. as a space where authors can discuss their work and engage in thoughtful conversation.

The event has grown over the past decade; this year, the festival opened on August 2 with a conversation between Chelsea Handler and Seth Meyers at the island’s Performing Arts Center. The next two days brought over thirty authors to four separate stages set up under billowing tents in the up-Island town of Chilmark. Among others, bestselling authors John Grisham, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Joan Nathan, and Richard Russo talked about their work and participated in panel discussions ranging from the role of the press to the future of life on earth.

COURTESY OF PANTHEON

On Sunday, local author Janet Messineo closed out the festival by sharing stories from her book, Casting into the Light: Tales of a Fishing Life (Pantheon), which chronicles her path to becoming an expert striped bass fisherman and, eventually, fish taxidermist. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with catching striped bass,” she said to an audience filled with fellow anglers and casual observers. “To me, catching the fish is the thrill these days. I don’t keep anything I’m not going to eat. These are beautiful and clever animals.” Messineo swapped tales with moderator and Chilmark selectman Warren Doty about fishing under cover of darkness–striped bass are nocturnal–and thrilling at the beauty of the species and the ever-present opportunity to hook “the big one.”

As the day came to a close, festival-goers filed out of the tents clutching reusable totes filled with hefty hardcovers and trekked the half-mile or so to the field-turned-parking lot, wondering which book to tackle first during these waning days of summer.

“On Paper” Gets a Makeover

After the 2013 publication of Nick Basbanes’s On Paper, book artist Tim Elycalled the author and requested the unbound sheets of the book, just as they appeared off the press. Basbanes’s editor kindly obliged, and off On Paperwent to Washington State to Ely’s art studio where he forges one-of-a-kind, handmade books that have been compared to illuminated manuscripts for their impeccable detail and expression. Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

Basbanes didn’t hear from Ely for five and a half years, but, considering that Ely’s work is found in private collections as well as the Library of Congress, Yale University, Smith College, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Lilly Library, and the Boston Athenaeum, there was hardly any rush. Then, earlier this spring, the artist sent Basbanes a note saying the book was ready, and had it shipped to Massachusetts under the most careful of conditions.

Unwrapped, Basbanes came face-to-face with his book, now clad in a creamy off-white clamshell box with marbled borders. The book itself is now bound with strips of handmade Japanese paper, papyrus strips, and leather. Peppering the front and back boards are Ely’s own glyphs–symbols the artist calls “cribform” that take on different meanings depending on their placement and the tool used to create them. It is, said Basbanes, “a most exquisite piece of art.”

 

Ely, who had been doing what he called “a slow deep read of On Paper,” set himself a goal to “require every self-proclaimed book artist to read it and know it,” likening the use of paper to the “idea of drawing as a major expression,” finding inspiration in using paper as “a medium for telepathy.”

Spine of "On Paper." Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

“Beyond deep reading, I have found that the best way to become informed about an event or gather a bit of enlightenment is to make an expressive book,” Ely said a few years back. Indeed, his work is a kind of bookmaking alchemy, fusing the ancient art of monastic manuscript binding with contemporary expression.

PHOTO CREDITS: NICK BASBANES