Thursday, April 28, 2011

Norfolk Academy art show 2011

© 2011 Sylvia Liu
© 2011 Sylvia Liu
© 2011 Sylvia Liu
© 2011 Sylvia Liu
I've posted these images before, but I wanted to gather them in one place. These four pieces will be shown at this year's art show at Norfolk Academy. For anyone in the local area, the opening reception is Saturday, April 30, from 6-8 p.m. at the John H. Tucker Arts Center, 1585 Wesleyan Dr., Norfolk, VA 23502. Over 100 local and regional artists take part in this annual event.

Additional gallery hours next week:
May 1, 2-5 p.m.
May 2-5, 11 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
May 6, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
May 7, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: Looking for info on this year's show? Check out my post on the 2012 Norfolk Academy Art Show.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base

I love picture books that include puzzles and mind-teasers that make my kids think. Even better, I love picture books that make me feel smarter after I read them. The Eleventh Hour, by Graeme Base (Abrams, 1989) is one of these books.

In this intricately illustrated story told in humorous verse, Horace the Elephant invites eleven other animal guests to his 11th birthday party. The party guests play games and sports, but soon find that the banquet has mysteriously been eaten. It's up to the reader to decipher the clues packed into every page to figure out the culprit. For example, messages clearing some guests or giving hints about others are told in hieroglyphics, Morse code, musical notations, teeny-tiny print, or cleverly disguised in the illustrations. In one page, the animals proclaim their innocence or explain themselves in a way awfully reminiscent of an LSAT logic problem. The clocks on every spread track the progress of the party and a really astute reader can figure out the time of the crime and which animal was missing from that scene.

This was a fun book for our family. We all got caught up in finding the clues, solving word puzzles, and decoding the secret message at the end that explains the mystery. At the end, the author even provides a detailed guide to each page to let readers in on all the clues they will inevitably miss.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Illustration Friday: Journey

© 2011 Sylvia Liu
In space, every creature is on its own journey. (click the image twice to see more details)  This is a 30 x 30 in. painting that will be one of four pieces in the Norfolk Academy art show opening at the end of April.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Different Ways to View your Blogger Blog

I was visiting illustrator Alicia Padron's blog and learned about a nifty Blogger feature.  Just add "/view" to the end of your url, and you can see your posts in different fun ways.

For example, the mosaic view of my blog looks like this:

The snapshot view looks like this:

Check it out here, and play around with the different options.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Update: Actually, Borrowing an Ebook is Pretty Painful

Three weeks ago, I borrowed some ebooks from the library using the Overdrive app, and found the process fairly easy and only a little irritating (see my original post on borrowing ebooks). Now, I'm not sure it is worth it:

  • It's free, so you can save some money compared to buying an ebook.
  • It's more convenient than biking/driving to the library, but only if the ebook is immediately available.
  • Because it is not widely used yet, it is easier to get a popular title electronically than in hard copy. I borrowed an ebook version of Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother without a wait.  If I wanted the hard copy, I'd be number 70 in line for 5 copies. 
iPad screenshot of Overdrive app
  •  Ebooks are not always immediately available, defeating one of the key benefits of e-readers, the instant gratification of downloading and reading a book. I had to place two holds on a Thursday (even though no other patrons were in virtual line), and one book was made available 3 days later and the other one a full week later. I got the hard copy of that book delivered from another branch faster than the ebook.
  • Only 3 ebooks may be checked out at a time.  Compare that to hard copy books: our library allows patrons to check out 30 books.
  • The checkout time is fixed and you cannot return a book early. I read two of the ebooks fairly quickly but the system required me to keep each book for 21 days. I later learned I could preset my checkout time for a shorter period. 
  • Theoretically you can return a book early but I haven't figured out how. After navigating the help page, following the instructions to download a different program because the iPad app didn't have the feature, it still didn't work. 
  • Be careful about your returns. When I actually spoke to a person, she warned me not to return two books in one day or return the books too soon after checking them out. Apparently if you do this, Overdrive will lock down your account as a precaution against piracy.
  • You can't renew a book; you have to re-check it out. I am almost done with the third of my original checkouts, but it expired today and I was locked out of the book.  
  • It's a glitchy app. A few days ago, I went into the Overdrive library and found all of my books gone. I had to uninstall and reinstall the app and re-download my books.

Although the system is set up to try to limit potential piracy, it doesn't work well with my reading habits. When I want to borrow a book, I like being able to keep it as long as I need and return it at my convenience. With my public library, getting hard copy books is pretty darn convenient. I can do most of my transactions online (searching for books, placing holds, renewing books), and I can pop in to pick up or drop off the books (or if in a real rush, use their drive through window).

So the only real benefit I see is getting to read a popular book quickly without either buying it outright or waiting weeks or months for the library's hard copy.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again, but Technology Can Give You a Glimpse

I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, from age 5 to 17. Although my parents lived there another 11 years after I left for college, I only went back to visit a few times in the early 90s. Life got busy; it was less safe; and my parents would visit us. I would think about Caracas occasionally, but it was a world away from my life in Boston, L.A., D.C., and now Virginia Beach.

For anyone who hasn't visited, Caracas is a place of contradictions - it is a chaotic, bustling city of 3 million people nestled in a beautiful, green valley about 3,000 feet above sea level. The weather is idyllic to the point of ridiculousness: it's 70-85 all year. There's poverty, traffic, corruption, and crime, but the Venezuelan people are warm, full of life, and family-oriented. My strongest memory of the city was this view, which we saw every evening as we unwound on our teeny-tiny balcony:

In a pre-digital age, this faded photo and a handful of others would be the only tangible reminders of my childhood home. But technology has changed all of that. Half a dozen years ago, I discovered Google Earth and was amazed to see a birds-eye view of the apartment building I grew up in:

Fast forward a few more years, when Facebook exploded. My Caracas friends were early adopters because it was such a fabulous tool to connect with people from all over the world who had once gone to school with us. All of a sudden, I could see bits and pieces of Caracas in the backgrounds of friends' photos. A few months ago, a friend visiting Caracas posted pictures that he took from his friend's apartment. It was a total coincidence, but he just happened to be across the highway from my old apartment complex. For the first time in almost 20 years, I saw the familiar green buildings that had haunted my memories:

The two green buildings in the foreground are part of the five buildings that made up our complex. Our building is not in this picture, but is off to the right. Here's another photo he took, of the exit that led to our buildings (I don't remember the highway ever being this empty):

I was floored to see these views. I love how satellites and social networks have let me revisit my childhood home from fresh and surprising perspectives. And it's fitting that they only approximate the view I remember from the fourth floor balcony, as memories always retain their own lives.

So this was a rambling post about place and memory. Do you ever think about how your life was shaped  by the places you've been, the specific spots on Earth you've seen? Can you ever go back? REM put it nicely, "Stand in the place where you are. Now face North. Think about direction and wonder why you haven't before. . . .Think about the place where you live and wonder why you haven't before."

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pirate Picture Books!

I've been reading pirate picture books as research for a new project. It's a hugely popular genre, with girl pirates, chicken pirates, strange puppet pirates, and more. Here are some of my favorites:  

The Gingerbread Pirates, written by Kristin Kladstrup and illustrated by Matt Tavares (Candlewick 2009). With a whole genre of gingerbread cookie picture books and another of pirate picture books, it was inevitable that a gingerbread cookie pirate story would be written. This is one of my favorites because it combines classic story themes (hero's quest, toy that wants to be real, Christmas magic) in original and heartwarming ways. The plucky hero, a gingerbread pirate, not only saves his crew from the evil cannibal in a red suit (Santa), but also achieves his dream of becoming a real toy to be loved (though being a pirate cookie looked awfully fun). The art nicely complements the text with its warm and soft tones, and the expressions on the cookies are priceless.

The Legend of the Golden Snail, by Graeme Base (Abrams 2010). Though not actually a pirate tale, this story does involve a boy who wears a pirate hat and embarks on a fantastic sea adventure to find and tame the legendary Golden Snail. He also defeats earwig pirates who have commandeered lantern fish for their lights, among other adventures. Golden Snail is remniscent of David Wiesner's Flotsam, with beautifully drawn fantastical and dreamy sea creatures and scenery. When the boy finally finds the Golden Snail, he chooses to return it to its ancestral home, a satisfying ending.

Pirate Girl, written by Cornelia Funk and illustrated by Kerstin Meyer (Scholastic 2003). In this girl power pirate story, a band of pirates captures Molly, a young girl who alarmingly refuses to play the docile captive. Though the pirates put her to work peeling potatoes, scrubbing the deck, and the like, they soon come to regret it when they discover Molly is the daughter of the most fearsome pirate of all, Barbarous Bertha. The illustrations are whimsical, cartoony, and loaded with funny details.

The Night Pirates, written by Peter Harris and illustrated by Deborah Allwright (Scholastic 2006) is a not-too-scary bedtime story perfect for younger kids. "Rough, tough little girl pirates" wake little Tom up, steal the front of his house for a disguise, and take him along on a pirate raid of some "rough, tough grown-up pirates." After scaring those pirates and taking their treasure, the girls deliver Tom safely back to bed. The illustrations, a combination of drawing, painting, and collage elements, are cute with a restrained European sensibility. The text is lively, alliterative, and nicely suited to being read aloud.

Papa is a Pirate, by Katharina Grossman-Hensel (North South Books, 2009) is a fun book. A little boy is surprised to learn that his dad's a pirate. He's skeptical, though, because the dad doesn't quite have the lingo down ("Turn left? turn right? Pirates say port and starboard, Papa!"), the right pet ("Pirates have parrots, not parakeets"), or the right story (his mom a pirate?  "You told me before that Mom was a princess"). In the end, the dad convinces the boy, despite his delightfully silly stories.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Illustration Friday: Duet

© 2011 Sylvia Liu
This is one of four new paintings I've been working on for a local art show this spring, and it happens to fit this week's theme.  The relationship between a parent and child is like a duet, sometimes.