Jack and Jill …and the Drones will be performed at Solarfest, in Tinmouth, VT
July 18-20, 2014
Three Shows! Friday at 3 PM, Saturday and Sunday at 10 AM
For more information, click here to visit the Solarfest website.
See you there!
The first graders at my school were honored to have a Skype visit with Mr. Asch. Our class had completed an author study of Mr. Asch’s books. The students were very interested in how Mr. Asch wrote his books and how they could become a writer like him. During the Skype visit, the students asked Mr. Asch questions like, “How did you decide to make your main character a bear?”, “Do you have tips for writing my own book?”, “How did you learn to be such a great artist?” and “Why are you so interested in nature and space?” Mr. Asch spent extensive time answering each question and really gave students a lot of insight into what it means to be an author. After he answered their questions, students showed Mr. Asch characters they had each created. He used all of the characters they had made into a brand new story. The class even got to meet Moonbear!
This experience gave our students the opportunity to meet an author, to ask meaningful questions, and to appreciate the art of storytelling. The Skype visit inspired many of my students to become better writers and to write their own books. Mr. Asch helped our students see the true magic in writing and many have been writing non-stop since the Skype visit. I would recommend this experience to any classroom. Thank you Mr. Asch for this incredible opportunity! Sarah Allen, First Grade Teacher
Recently some friends invited us over for dinner. After a delicious meal the husband of the couple mentioned that he was thinking of writing a children’s book. He wasn’t thinking of making a career of it, he just thought it might be a fun thing to do. Actually, this kind of situation has come up quite often in my many years of writing kids’ books. Seems like almost everyone I meet has a kids’ book kicking around in their dream chest.
Mostly, I’m at a loss when friends, or even complete strangers, ask me to help them get published. Sometimes I offer a few words of advice. But mostly I don’t know what to tell them. After all, I first got published over 40 years ago. And that was kind of a fluke. I just walked in off the street and talked with one of the few children’s book editors that would agree to meet with a “walk in” like me. That was a rare event back then. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t happen at all now a days.
Normally, what I do when approached by aspiring authors is encourage them to find some venue for their stories other than publishing. I tell them to go to a local story book hour and offer to read their stories there. Or start a small writer’s group and share their stories there. I belonged to a writer’s group for a while and it really was a stimulating experience. And of course, if you have kids or friends with kids offer to read them your stories at bed time.
Those are the obvious venues. But there are many other creative possibilities for story telling in everyday life. For example, when our son Devin was young I remember helping to organize a camping trip with several other homeschooling families. Part of that weekend, was a story telling circle where everyone sat around the fire telling stories, original and not so original.
It just happened to be my actual birthday that night so I made up a fictional story about a dog I owned when I was a child. In the story, which I called Ghost Dog, the dog was run over by a car on my birthday and ever since then comes back to visit me on my birthday. “All I have to do is call out his name and where ever I am my dog, Sandy, will bark just to let me know she’s there,” I said. So of course all the kids around the fire urged me to call out to my “ghost dog”. Unbeknownst to them I had stationed some older kids in the forest. When I did call out my dog’s name they were instructed to bark. The trick worked like a charm. And all the kids went wide eyed when they heard the “Ghost Dog” answer my call….
I’ve had lots of fun publishing kids books. But I don’t think anything beats that moment of pure magic when all of a sudden in the minds of those kids around the fire, the boundary between reality and story was totally blurred . Of course, I came clean the next day and explained that it was all a hoax. As rule, I don’t believe in deceiving kids ever if it can be avoided. But I guess I just couldn’t avoid it in that case.
Another example of at home story telling that I enjoyed for many years happened during the Halloween costume parties we hosted. As soon a people came in the door I wrote down what their costume was. Then sometime during the evening I ran upstairs and wrote a story involving all the characters at the party. If there were twenty people wearing costumes then the story would involve each of those twenty characters. The plot lines of course were pretty silly, verging on nonsensical. But no one seemed to mind that. I wrote a script with me as the narrator and on separate pieces of paper wrote out a line or two for each of the characters. Then toward the end of the evening we would “tell” the story with each character reading their lines. The result was always entertaining and often hilarious.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that there are plenty of published stories to enjoy. But it’s also wonderful to make up your own stories and share them with just family and friends.
The question I’m most asked when I visit schools or talk with teachers is: “Where do you get your ideas, Mr. Asch?” (Kids often call me “Mr. Frank Asch” I guess because they are so familiar with seeing my name printed that way on my books. One five year old was actually disappointed when he met me because he was sure I was a bear and not a person! But that’s another blog.) So I thought I would begin this blog by talking a little about where I get my ideas. Actually, I will talk around that subject because, to be perfectly frank, I’m not really sure where my ideas come from. But what I can talk about in some cases is the circumstances, intentions, and experiences that accompany the birth of an idea for me.
In many cases it’s something that’s going on in my reality that triggers an idea for a book. That and a constant watchfulness for something that might inspire a good story. For example, I remember telling a friend that I often felt like a turtle afraid to come out of my shell. His response was something like: “Don’t worry. Lots of people feel like that. The trick is knowing when to poke your head out of your shell and when to draw it in.”
Right away I knew there was a story in that statement. And it didn’t take me long to figure it out. The result was Turtle Tale which you can now watch on this website as an animation created by my son, Devin. I thought it was such a “primal” idea I went out of my way to keep the art as stripped down and basic as possible. No frills what so ever. That kind of approach doesn’t win one any prizes or awards, but I’ve always sought to match the style of my illustrations with the intent of the story rather than developing a fancy ‘one style fits all’ kind of approach.
What was the experience behind Moonbear? Well, that’s a bit harder to talk about. But I’m pretty sure it has more to do with an experience I had with the moon rather than any experience I ever had with a bear, and that experience happened many years before I wrote my first Moonbear story. I was still in art school at Cooper Union and having a difficult time living on my own in the big city. I felt like I was in some kind of limbo between adolesence and adulthood. I was chomping at the bit to go out into the world and do something. But I couldn’t quite extricate myself from school. And living in the city was getting me down. Then a friend invited me to visit her parents house in the country. In the middle of the night I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was a full moon that night and the moonlight was coming through the blinds making diagonal slashes across the covers. As I sat up in bed I held my hands in the moonlight and really saw it’s beauty as if for the first time. As I turned my hands in the moonlight, dipping them in a waterfall of light, I thought, “Oh, my God! The moon is everywhere and it’s so beautiful! One doesn’t need more than this to be happy!” I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience like that. But if you have, you know that it stays with you. Many years later as I put my aspirations to be a painter aside and focused on kids’ books as a career, my goal was to write stories that were not just entertaining but stories that reflected some piece of the puzzle of life that I had put together for myself. So of course I wanted to write about my experience with the moon. But I couldn’t just recount my experience as it had actually happened. I had to couch it in the language of story. My first step was to create a character that loved the moon as much as I did: Moonbear.
Why a bear? Well, bears often stand upright so they are a logical stand-in for people. And they are solitary animals that rarely interact with other bears. They can’t rely on others to teach them what the world is like. They have to figure it out for themselves. So they are apt to form foolish misconceptions about the nature of reality which often makes for fun and mayhem…
More on this topic later. I just wanted to get my blog rolling. I hope you like my new website. Many thanks to my wife Jan who did all the heavy lifting and our friend Nathaniel Gibson who knows everything there is to know about building websites.