Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sterling Memorial Library: A Library from Another Age

I just got back from my college reunion. Besides catching up with old friends, I loved walking around campus and seeing how things had changed or noticing things that I had not before. One of the places I loved revisiting was the Sterling Memorial Library, Yale's main library. It is built in a Gothic revival style, with its main lobby designed like a cathedral, complete with a nave, transepts, stained glass windows, and an altar-like check-out desk:
view of nave from main entrance

stained glass window

check out desk
view from right transept

ceiling detail

an inside courtyard
When I was an undergraduate, I may have glanced at these details, but only in passing on my way to the stacks. I also didn't spend much time studying in the main library, preferring the other smaller libraries around campus. This visit, my college roommate showed me some great little gargoyles holding up the pillars in the transepts. For example, a student at a bar:
or another one holding a book with an early text-message:
In this era of electronic books and decreased resources, we won't see an altar to books like this anymore. We certainly won't see this sight:
The library still has rooms of these beautiful, old card catalogues, but when you open the drawers, they are all empty.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Review: Wonderfully Wacky Scieszka-Smith Picture Books

Author Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith have collaborated on many picture books, each of them more wonderfully wacky and demented than the next. Along the way, they've picked up a Caldecott. Here are my kids' and my favorites:

The Stinky Cheeseman and other Fairly Stupid Tales (Viking, 1992) (Caldecott Honor book) These fractured fairy tales are sarcastic, funny, and filled with dark humor. The title story, for example, riffs off the classic tale of the gingerbread baby. But here the main character is a stinky cheese man who repels every creature he encounters, so no one chases him. His stink is so bad that he causes the fox carrying him across the river to gag and throw him to his doom. Other fairy tales receive similar treatment: The Really Ugly Duckling grows up to be a really ugly duck. Little Red Running Shorts is so fast she beats the wolf to Grandma's house and ends the story 2 pages early. And so on.

The best part, however, is how this book breaks the fourth wall, playing with and deconstructing picture book conventions. For example, throughout the book Chicken tries to tell her story, Chicken Licken, but is repeatedly thwarted. She's interrupted by the Title page, frustrated by the lazy illustrator and author who leave a blank page, and meets her demise when she stumbles into Jack and the Beanstalk's giant's story.

Squids Will be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables (Scholastic 2000). This compilation of twisted fables offers short, absurd stories followed by dead-pan funny morals. For example, Frog buys skateboard shoes and crashes spectacularly. The moral? "Everyone knows frogs can't skateboard, but it's kind of sad that they believe everything they see on TV." Skunk, Musk Ox, and Cabbage argue over who's responsible for the terrible smell. The moral? "He who smelt it, dealt it." Straw and Matches are playing together, but Matches is obnoxious, rude, selfish, and untrustworthy. Moral? "Don't play with matches." And so on.

Lane Smith's illustrations in this book and the Stinky Cheese Man are textured collages with a distinctive graphic style. His characters are the opposite of cute and cuddly, instead verging on stylized ugly - in other words, perfectly suited to the stories.

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf (Penguin Books 1989) Wolf tells his side of the story. He spins a lovely tale from jail, telling us how he's been misunderstood and unjustly framed for the death of 2 little pigs and the destruction of their houses. He was only trying to borrow some sugar from his neighbors, but his terrible cough and sneezes accidentally knocked down the houses and killed the pigs. He was caught by the cops at the third pig's brick house only because that swine rudely insulted his granny causing him to lose his cool and make a big ruckus. This story is illustrated in warm earth tones and with Smith's signature style.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Some Works of Shaun Tan

Australian author-illustrator Shaun Tan recently won the Astrid Lindgren prize, the world's largest prize for children's literature. According to the prize committee, "Shaun Tan is a masterly visual storyteller, pointing the way ahead to new possibilities for picture books. His pictorial worlds constitute a separate universe where nothing is self-evident and anything is possible." Earlier this year, he won an Oscar for Best Short Film (Animated) for the animated adaptation of his picture book, The Lost Thing. Here's a review of a few of his works:

Picture books
Lost and Found, by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine, 2011), compiles three of Shaun Tan's picture books in one volume: The Red Tree (2001), The Lost Thing (2000), and The Rabbits (1998). Both the stories and illustrations are layered, intricate, and moody, lending themselves to long contemplation and admiration. Though aimed at all ages, they are more suitable to older children and adults. My almost 7 year old, for example, thought the stories were too sad and did not enjoy them. The three stories are:
The Red Tree. This simple story starts off on a somber note: "sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to . . . and things go from bad to worse . . .darkness overcomes you . . . nobody understands . . ."and stays unrelentently morose. A little girl wakes up in a room slowly filling with black leaves and wanders through surreal and unhappy citi- and dream-scapes, disconnected from herself and others. Only at the end does she come back to her room to find a ray of bright hope.

The Lost Thing. A boy finds a giant, red lost thing on a beach and takes it home with him. After his parents initially failed to notice it ("too busy discussing current events, I guess") but then banished it, the boy sets out to find a place for it. He starts with the Federal Department of Odds & Ends, but a strange janitor being tells him not to leave it there, for "This is a place for forgetting, leaving behind, smoothing over." He hands him a card with a mysterious arrow sign, which eventually leads the boy to a hidden alley that opens to a strange, fantastic world of other lost things.

The Rabbits, by John Mardsen, illustrated by Shaun Tan, tells the tale of western colonialism's effects on indigenous populations, specifically the Australian conquest of the aborigines. Here, the Rabbits come, first raising only curiosity and some warnings from the old folk, but soon taking over the land ("They ate our grass. They chopped down our trees and scared away our friends. . . rabbits, rabbits, rabbits. Millions and millions of rabbits. Everywhere we look there are rabbits."). This story, like the reality for aborigenes, has no happy ending, only the question, "Who will save us from the rabbits?"

Graphic Novel

Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine, 2008). In this compilation of short stories and vignettes, Shaun Tan introduces us to the surreal worlds found in outer suburbia. For example: a water buffalo living in the vacant lot at the end of the street: a tiny leaf-like foreign exchange student who enjoys living in the pantry; broken bits and scraps of poetry that combine into a beautiful, larger poem; a dugong beached 4 km from the nearest beach in a young couple's backyard; residents of a drab, sad country who find impossible rooms within their homes that are portals to luscious, magical worlds; and kids who paint and decorate their government-issued intercontinental ballistic missiles. I loved every one of the stories and the illustrations whose details and flights of fancy are absorbing and impressive.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Illustration Friday: Safari

© 2008 Sylvia Liu
This is a sketch I did awhile ago for a picture book dummy: puppy's safari.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Illustration Friday: Beginner

© 2009 Sylvia Liu
© 2009 Sylvia Liu
Two summers ago, my daughters (ages 7 and 5 at the time) learned to surf. My older daughter went to a surf camp while my younger one took a one-hour lesson. Being kids with no fear and a great sense of balance, the girls were able to get up immediately and ride waves. I also went to a surf camp for women that summer, and needless to say, it was much harder for me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Flipboard Jump-started my Twitter Experience

A couple of years ago, I joined Twitter and found it underwhelming. I didn't know how to take advantage of the service. I followed a few real-life friends who were not very active and some major news outlets and sat around wondering what the hype was about. I didn't post any tweets and quickly abandoned my account.

Then I got an iPad and discovered the Flipboard app. This app compiles any feed (Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, blogs, and websites) into a visual magazine. Facebook status updates are viewable as images and articles instead of status reports with links. Twitter links of photos and articles show up instead of the tweets. The made a big difference in my Twitter experience:

1. On the most basic level, it got me back onto Twitter.
When I downloaded the app, the first two spaces of the contents page were reserved for my Facebook and Twitter streams. I didn't like seeing an empty Twitter box on my contents page, so I decided to sign back on. I did so, though, because I was already beginning to realize how Flipboard could help my Twitter experience...   

2. The user experience is visual, and the focus is on the links.
The contents page looks like this (each of the squares are customizable; these happen to be some of my feeds):
Tapping one of the icons opens the account in a magazine format, and each account will have 10 or so pages of content. For example, a page from the illustration blog Drawn's Twitter feed (@Drawn) looks like this:
Only when you tap one of the articles do you get the actual tweet:
From this page, I can favorite, retweet, reply, or forward the tweet. Flipboard is ideal for blogs or websites that are highly visual, because I like to scan the images before deciding to open a link.

3. It helps me manage "gusher" Twitter accounts.
Some people tweet such an enormous amount that their tweets threatened to overwhelm my timeline. Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), for example, provides interesting content but at a rate of seemingly hundreds of tweets a day. So instead of following him, I have his Twitter feed set up in Flipboard and can see at a glance the items he is tweeting:
4. Flipboard introduced me to some great Twitter accounts.

When setting up my contents page, Flipboard recommended leading blogs and Twitter feeds in categories like Art & Photography, Tech & Science, Entertainment, Food & Dining, News, and the list goes on. The drawback to Flipboard is that it only allows 21 feeds on 2 pages of contents, so I can't follow all the people I would like on Flipboard. But by introducing me to some great content, I was able to find people to follow on Twitter that I otherwise would not have known about.

December 2011 update:
Flipboard now allows multiple users to set up their own accounts and includes an additional page of features, including a section that lets you view any of your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Tumblr, Google Reader, Instagram, Flickr, and 500px) and a long list of recommended feeds:

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Can you Spot the Picture Book Trend?

Every once in awhile, I go into a big bookstore to see what the picture book trends are. It didn't take me long to figure it out this time when I went into Barnes & Noble.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Illustration Friday: Lesson

© 2011 Sylvia Liu
Lesson learned: Frog Prince would let princesses know he was writing a tell-all memoir only after getting the kiss.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Norfolk Academy art show - news

© 2011 Sylvia Liu
Good news...one of my paintings sold at the Norfolk Academy art show on Sat. The organizers have asked me to bring in a new painting, and I'm not certain which one of the two below I will bring. Any preferences? I'm leaning towards the other Zippy, tho I have a soft spot for it and may not want to sell it. (Today the fifth vowel of my keyboard is not working, so I'm staying away from words with that letter. Sorry if this post is a bit stilted).
© 2010 Sylvia Liu

© 2010 Sylvia Liu