If you're following me on twitter, facebook, and/or instagram, then you already know how excited I was on Sunday to meet The Incredible Book Writing Boy, Oliver Jeffers. I noticed on his instagram Saturday that he was en route to Texas and immediately began researching where, if at all, he would be making a public appearance. I was ecstatic when I found out he would be speaking at the Dallas Museum of Art yet immediately deflated as I realized it was sold out. But that wasn't going to stop me.
A few phone calls and several squealing leaps across the house later, I discovered the DMA opened a secondary simulcast room for the overflow and my husband so graciously agreed to accompany the girls and I for what was sure to be a disaster. It was recommended we arrive several hours early to ensure seats. What on earth were we going to do with little ones in a museum for hours while I hovered near the auditorium entrance and made all the employees uncomfortable? I wasn't sure. But I knew we had to go. Yes, I could've left all three at home to make it easier on everyone. Though I knew the day had potential to shape their growing minds and either guide them toward the truth in their own hearts, or help reveal mine to them.
We headed downtown as soon as church let out and grabbed lunch before we rushed over. I had no idea what to expect. From the panic on the other end of the phone the many times I called, "(covering the mouth piece with their hand) It's sold out?! But it's a free event! Good Lord", I assumed there would be a long line already, possibly some campers in front of the entrance. Unfortunately for Oliver, I secretly wished no one would show. Luck was on my side a bit, thanks to the dreary, freezing weather- which according to the author was like a spring day back in his native Belfast.
The museum was calm and uncrowded upon arrival. We were met with two smiling faces in the foyer handing out free tickets to Studio Creations. (A hands-on program with a different theme each month held on Saturdays and Sundays.) They spoke of a free tour and an activity so we took the tickets and planned to swing by at the scheduled time. I then ran to the information desk and inquired about Oliver's event, looking for a door to lunge my boot into before it closed tight, and tried to pay admission. Up until now, I had only ever worked numerous events at the DMA in my former career and passed through once with our kids on the way to the Nasher Sculpture Center. I never knew the museum is free, except for the special exhibits of course. I was so relieved. At the very least, if anything were to go wrong- say, one of my children rattles the glass flowers in the café with her shrieks and we are asked to leave, or if one happens to hurl herself at a piece and knocks it over, crashing to the ground and we are asked to leave, and perhaps if we all are simply incapable of acting civilized or controlled and we must excuse ourselves from all the sophistication- at least we wouldn't be out big ticket prices.
We roamed around the Center for Creative Connections for a minute or two until all four of us were swallowed by the world of art. I was surprised we all took to it so quickly. Within ten minutes of entering the museum with a three-year-old and a five-year-old, chaperoned by the self-proclaimed "least artistic person in the world", my husband was posing for a portrait and the girls were sketching him. They sat still. They were quiet. They were concentrating. I was screaming inside and wiping away a few quiet tears of joy.
At 1 o'clock, we made our way into the art studio to check out the event we received free tickets to earlier, "Studio Creations: Think, Feel, Paint". Other couples had children with them, even a few with strollers, so I thought me might survive after all. The first stop was to visit the abstract gallery. Here we discussed movement, lines, colors, and shapes- all easily relatable for any age. The girls immediately engaged and were throwing yarn like Pollock used to sling paint, decoding the moods of paintings through the use of color, even re-constructing one of the pieces using large shapes made of felt. At this point, I'm starting to lose my mind. It was unbelievable to watch them be so suddenly interested and genuinely happy. They weren't pulling on my leg, whining for a toy, or stomping their feet in protest. I took a few pictures so the moment would last longer.
Then we made our way back to the studio to make some art. We all pulled inspiration from the pieces we just visited and started painting away. Little Girl knew what she wanted to paint before we had even left for the abstracts- a rainbow. She sat down and got to work. Baby Girl had no clue what to paint, so she decided to experiment with colors mostly. "Mommy, how do I make pink?" "Mix red and white together baby." (a few moments of silence dripping with bliss) "Mommy! It worked!! How do I make purple?" "Try red and blue together." "I can't believe it! You were right Mommy!!" One of the teachers circled our table, complimenting everyone's work, "Oh, I love your cheerful rainbow! And your bright colors make me so happy! And yours...(she looked down at mine, I stopped, glanced at the girls' then back at mine)" "And, mine is dark and depressing." We all laughed. Look, we're in different seasons of life. I'm coping in mine with dark colors. Leave me alone. My husband struggled at first, but found his brush filling the white and all of the sudden, he made art. Although, I feel it may be too indicative of his red-blooded, American-male nature. At least it's honest. Do you see what I see??
|Artists clockwise from top left: Little Girl, Baby Girl, Husband, Me|
Just when I thought the day couldn't get any better, it was time to see Oliver's presentation. My husband took the girls to play in Arturo's Nest (a bright and colorful play room for ages 0-4 tucked in the back and located next to clean bathrooms with a diaper changer) while I went to hover near the line of ticket holders. I made the girls taking tickets nervous, and probably made Oliver a bit uneasy when I frantically waved at him as he peeked his head out for a moment, but I was not about to give up on inserting myself into the main stage room. It was free for crying out loud. And it was too dreary outside for everyone to follow through with their plans that day. Luckily, my secret wishes were answered when some guests didn't show and we were allowed to squeeze into the main auditorium- the third row to be specific. No, I didn't hurt anyone hurling myself down the steps to get seats near the front. They just weren't as enthusiastic as I was that day. Sorry. (Not sorry.)
True to form, Oliver entered the stage quietly and glanced up at the illustration of the Huey's on the large screen which read, "Hello." He looked back at us with no expression, pointed to the screen, and waved his hand. The auditorium lit up with laughter. Then he played this video:
After the video ended, he waved once more and said, "Thank you. Good bye." and began to exit the stage. Again with the laughter. This is what makes his work so divine- the sharpest of wit, whittled down to a beautiful simplicity. Fortunately, he continued with his presentation as part of the Arts & Letters Live literary and performing art series at the DMA. He read us books, drew us pictures, told us stories, and taught us all how to draw our very own penguin.
Just in case you're unfamiliar with him and his work, Oliver was studying fine art and realized he wanted to add words to his work. He decided the best format to present his vision was/is in picture books. (He doesn't call them children's books. They're not just for children.) He wrote and illustrated his own book, which he has done since with the exception of collaborating with Drew Daywalt on The Day the Crayons Quit, sent it straight to publishers and received an excited phone call the next day. Unheard of until now. The rest is history. From picture books, to art exhibitions, and even to the new music video and cover art for U2's album, he's done it all- and done it well. (My favorite parts are the globes and the elevator. Gah!)
All the while I was sitting there, listening to anything he had to say, I had my note pad open and my pen poised. Like Oliver, I never go anywhere without a pen and paper because as he explains, "Everything inside my head has an equal chance at being forgotten." I kept waiting for any writer's advice, or a great piece of motivation that summed up the secret to being a successful storyteller, and maybe even one tip on the publishing industry. It never came. Well, near the end he did reveal his "Top Tips":
- Purchase a large pencil (for your big ideas)
- Have a window to stare out pensively
- (I don't remember what he said for this one. I was picturing the windows in my house, deciding which would be best for staring out of pensively.)
- Never eat anything larger than your head in one sitting.
- If your mom says 'no'. Wait 5 minutes. Go ask your dad.
Carve out a space to work.
Don't do anything stupid.
Don't take 'no' for an answer.
In a nutshell?
Keep it simple.
Write great stories.
Now my children have a better understanding of mommy's adventure of being an author and maybe they won't rule it out early when choosing the paths for their own lives. (I wish I could've been pursuing this career since I was little. I found out much later.) We had such a wonderful time, with the exception of the last ten minutes while we waited to get our books signed, and I was able to breathe the same air as one of the greats. Thank you Oliver for coming to Texas. It was a real treat. We'll be visiting the museum regularly now. Thank you for opening our eyes to new possibilities and fresh experiences. We needed that, especially at what I hope is the tail end of winter.
For those of you who are also big fans, Oliver got the idea for the book Stuck after he was having a rough time and borrowed a friend's kite to clear his head. When he returned and was retelling the frustrating story of getting his friend's kite stuck in a tree, it hit him. Yes, he really did get a phone call from his publisher the day after they received his query for How to Catch a Star. No, he didn't have an agent. And he was tricked into illustrating The Day the Crayons Quit. His publisher called him in for a meeting but had to step out of the office for a moment. Before he did he told Oliver, "Just don't look at anything on my desk while I'm gone." So, of course, Oliver looked at his desk and saw the Crayons story laid out. When his publisher came back in, he asked who the illustrator was for the story? Sneaky, sneaky. Oh, and he's right-handed.
For a complete list of his picture books, click here. These are our favorites:
|Read more about this fantastic book here.|
|Click here to read my Nerdy Book Club review.|
Now I must know, what is your favorite picture book by Oliver Jeffers?
Mine is the one that started it all, How to Catch a Star.