Monday, August 24, 2015

Runza's Annual Great Books for Great Kids Fundraiser!



On Tuesday, August 25th, Runza® Restaurants will conduct the 13th annual Great Books for Great Kids fundraiser.  Runza® will donate 15% of the day's sales from both Bellevue locations to benefit the Children's Department of the Bellevue Public Library.  Last year the Bellevue Public Library Foundation received over $600 which was used to purchase 8 book series (43 titles).
In the last 12 years, over $362,000 has been donated to organizations in the communities served by Runza®.


Runza® Restaurants has been a long time supporter of reading.  "Reading is vital to lifelong success and provides an excellent opportunity for families to spend time together," stated Becky Perrett, Director of Marketing for Runza® National.  "Donating funds for books and promoting literacy is an important endeavor for children and the community."

I encourage the community to visit either Bellevue Runza® location (816 Galvin Rd. S. and 3002 Samson Way) on Tuesday, August 25, 2015.  You'll get a great meal AND support the Bellevue Public Library!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Getting to Know... Noah Witchell!

Last month I was in the audience at The Bookworm Bookstore when Marcus and Mardra Sikora read and signed copies of their newly-published children's picture book, 
"Black Day - The Monster Rock Band".  To learn more about this mother-son creative team see this post on my blog.




"Black Day - The Monster Rock Band" was illustrated by local artist Noah Witchell. Because of the large crowd in attendance to hear the Sikoras unveil their new book, I did not get a chance to meet Noah, although I did chat briefly with his lovely wife while we were outside at the Monster Cookie Table.  (Check out the blog post mentioned above to see pictures of The Cookie Table!)

I had a very enlightening chat with Noah recently via email:


Q: Is this the first children's book you have illustrated?
        Yes it is!  Hopefully not the last.

Q: Did you know Marcus before he started writing the book or did you meet through the process of making the book?
No, I didn't know Marcus before starting on the book.  I had met his dad, Quinn, briefly months beforehand via a friend of mine and between the two of them it had come to light that Marcus and Mardra had put together this manuscript for a children's book and were looking for an illustrator, at which point my friend put me in touch with Mardra.  We met up for coffee to discuss the book and the rest is history.
  
Q: How long did it take to complete the illustrations?  Not necessarily the number of hours but what was the process and how long (weeks? months?) did it take?
It was a very involved process, taking about a year to complete.  We had talked from the very beginning about possibly making Black Day into an animated short, which had a huge influence on how I approached the whole project.  I spent approximately four months building the characters and preparing them for animation through a process called rigging, as well as building all of the set pieces. After that, I spent about three months creating the book illustrations.  Once the book was nailed down, I moved over to the animation, which has taken about four and a half months so far, with another 2-3 weeks left to go!


Q: I sometimes hear authors say they didn't meet their book's illustrator - in person, at least - until after the book was published, and that they had only so much say in the choice of artist and illustrations.  I suspect your collaboration with the Sikoras was much more personal? 
Very much so.  We started with meeting every other week to talk about what the book and characters would look like.  I would work on developing the characters and set pieces, then create a few style frames to show them the progress and get their feedback.  I think because of how long the process took it provided ample opportunity for this to be particularly collaborative.  As we moved into finalizing the illustrations and starting the animation, we stepped things up to meeting once a week to look at proofs of the book and rough cuts of the animation.



Q: Was Marcus fairly particular about details (the colors used for each monster, Brad's hairstyle, the purple shingles on the monsters' house, etc.) or did he leave a lot of that to your imagination?
I think this is exactly where this project has been a match made in heaven.  Marcus was absolutely particular about the personality of the characters and had an extensive collection of drawings he had made to depict what they should look like, but there was still plenty of room for interpretation on my part, translating it from his drawing into a dimensional character.  In that sense it never felt like it was 100% only his vision or only mine.  We were both aiming for the same target, just standing in slightly different places.  With the sets, we talked broadly about the feeling of the locations but they largely left it up to me to make the house and the cemetery what I thought they should be to fit the story.

Q: What kind of training do you have?  What software did you use when creating the pictures for "Black Day"?  What other kinds of artwork/graphic design/illustrations have you done?
I initially went to school for photography, but through a long and gradual process photography evolved into video work, which turned into motion graphics work, which in turn lead to me working as a 3D artist.  As a photographer I was always fascinated by the concept of "constructed realities", where instead of going out and looking for something to photograph, you would simply build what you wanted to photograph on a massive, elaborate scale.  Working as a 3D artist is exactly that process, so it fit like a glove!  I built everything for Black Day in a 3D program called Cinema 4D, and I used a combination of a few other softwares such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and InDesign in order to put the finishing touches on both the illustrations and the animation.  As far as other work goes, I spend most of my year working on creating 3D content for concerts and television specials.  The beauty of what I do is that it can be done from just about anywhere with a decent internet connection, so I contract work remotely for companies based in Los Angeles.  You can find more information about me at www.noahwitchell.com

Q: Finally: Anything else you'd like to share?
This has been such an incredible experience!  When I first met Mardra I remember coming home and telling my wife about it, and it wasn't even a question.  We were both like "Yes, you need to do this!"  The thing that has been so remarkable to me with Black Day is that there are so many angles to look at it from.  You can look at it solely on the merits of the book as this fun Halloween story, or you can take a step back from that and look at it as this story about inclusiveness.  Another step back and it's about Marcus ponying up proof to the world that he isn't defined by an extra chromosome and that he can and will continue to be the inventive, clever guy he is.  Personally, my favorite angle to look at it from is the one where a small group of passionate people focused on a shared goal can accomplish some pretty amazing things.  A handful of people really shouldn't have been able to pull this off!  It's the craziest, most elaborate project I've ever taken on in my life.  But it's happening - the book is published and the production schedule for the animation is drawing to a close!  A little perseverance has brought us a long way, and I'm so thrilled to have been a part of it.

Want to see and learn more about Noah??  Visit his website!
Noah also has an email account (noah@noahwitchell.com) a Tumblr account, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a Vimeo account...well, you get the idea.

Now...are you ready for the premier trailer for the upcoming video short of "Black Day"?!


Drum roll, please!

Here...
          It...
                              Is!

                              Black Day - The Monster Rock Band TRAILER!


Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Getting to Know...Marcus Sikora and Mardra Sikora!

This summer I had the pleasure of meeting first-time author and Omahan Marcus Sikora and his mom, Mardra, at The Bookworm Bookstore.  They were at The Bookworm to read and promote their newly-published picture book, "Black Day - The Monster Rock Band". The book is illustrated by Noah Witchell.  Here is my interview with Noah.





Following the pictures and videos you can read my interview with Mardra.




As you may be able to tell from the photos, there was a full house for the event!  Mardra read the story aloud for the audience, while Marcus added character voices and comedic touches!




video

















Kitchen Sink Cookie Company provided these whimsical (and delicious!) monster cookies after the program!  If I'm not mistaken, this is the first book to have its own "Official Cookie"! 


My conversation with Mardra:

Q: Is this the first time you and Marcus have developed a story together?  Or is this book just the tip of the iceberg?!

Mardra:  Marcus and I have been writing together every weekend for many years, in fact, I think it’s been a ritual for about 10 years. He has many many ideas, but this is the first book we’ve worked all the way through. Marcus has also completed a one-act play that was produced as a multi-class project at North High School last spring. 


Q: From his appearance at The Bookworm, and from reading through your blog, Marcus impresses me as someone who enjoys jokes, plays on words, creative writing, etc.  What can either of you share about Marcus' childhood? 
Mardra:  Oh the stories! He has always expressed himself creatively. In fact, while he was learning to become more “verbal” he used his hands in the shape of puppets a lot as part of expressing himself and what was happening in his world. In fact, here is a funny story.  Also, he and Quinn, Marcus’ dad, also work/play together every week and record an improvised session of voice characterizations/sketches. 


Q: I am fascinated by the correlation between the amount and quality of verbal interactions between parent and child, and that child's later command of language, appreciation of literature, ability to spell and read, etc.  I suspect "language" was plentiful during his early years.  Words, rhymes, & songs, as well as imaginative play and conversation?  
Mardra:  I believe that teaching “the whole child” is important for every person. This includes math plus music plus arts plus reading and spelling and so on. These things all do play a part not only in academic success, but more importantly, in a person’s ability to thrive in his/her skin and environment. In neuro-typical children music education, for example, is a well-documented way to improve all areas of academic achievements. Marcus was fortunate to go to the Madonna School in Omaha, which also holds these values and has a Full Time Music Therapist. Since his graduation he has continued with voice lessons, which is perhaps his favorite hour every week. In our house we have the mantra, “Learning is Fun” –Sometimes we say it sarcastically because we’ve learned something the hard way, but often it’s because we are always learning at our house and we know that creating new paths in our brains is important to all of our brains and long term health.  
    

Q: Somewhere I read that Marcus has acting experience.  Can you share what roles or productions Marcus has been involved in?
Mardra:  Marcus’ biggest acting claim-to-fame was as a walk-on character (Kite-Boy) for one night a few years ago in the touring Broadway Cast of Mary Poppins. He also participates in the “Art of Imagination” classes and performances with the Ollie Webb Center in Omaha.  


Q: I loved the illustration showing the band running through the graveyard and past a grave stone that says "Limitations".  Who came up with that idea?
Mardra: The tombstone copy was collaboration between Quinn, Noah, and I.  We started with a few joke ideas, and then decided with this prime retail space – maybe go ahead and choose a real message. We were thinking of not only Marcus but also everyone we know who is trying to pursue his or her dreams. We talked about a 3.21 reference* but decided – No, this is for and about…everyone. Bury those limitations and do what you love.
* Not being familiar with the reference, I looked up "3.21".  It refers to the 3 copies of the 21st chromosome that causes Down syndrome.


When I asked if Mardra or Marcus had anything else to add, Mardra responded by sharing several anecdotes that highlight Marcus' sharp wit and playful nature:
Q to Marcus: Are you a musician?
Marcus; Yes
Q: What instrument do you play?
M: The Microphone

Q to Marcus: How long have you been Writing?
M: Just was  (= always)

Q to Marcus: How have you gone from acting on the stage to writing scripts.
M: Practice

An online debut of the trailer for Black Day was recently released.  Watch it here

For those interested in buying the book and The DVD – please visit their website: BlackDayBook.com.   They can be purchased locally at the Bookworm Bookstore in Omaha or via typical online sources such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

I also encourage you to check out their Facebook page:   https://www.facebook.com/GrownUpsAndDowns 
 


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Baby & Me Storytime ~ July 8 & 9, 2015

This Baby & Me Storytime was presented at Bellevue Public Library on July 8 & 9, 2015.

Book:
I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak, illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church











Songs:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Whenever you sing this song (or any other classic children's song!) to your child, remember that he or she is just starting to learn and enjoy it!  Give your child the added dimension of a tactile experience as you sing or play music.  You might enjoy rocking your child in rhythm with the song, patting your hand on Baby's back or chest, helping your child to do "bicycle legs" in the air as you sing, let your child experience "up and down" or "side to side" movement while he/she listens to the music, etc.


Rhymes:


As I Went Walking to Town One Day
As I went walking to town one day,
Oh it was a sunshiny day. 
As I went walking to town one day,
I met a cow along the way.
And what do you think that cow did say?
Moooo!

(repeat using other animals and sounds)

Pudding on the Plate
Pudding on the plate, pudding on the plate,
(sway gently from side to side with your child)
Wibble, wobble, wibble, wobble,
Pudding on the plate.

Candies in the jar, candies in the jar,
(shake* or bounce gently with your child)
Shake them up, shake them up,
Candies in the jar.

Candles on the cake, candles on the cake,
Blow them out, blow them out,
Candles on the cake.
(gently blow in your child's face!)

*  Always remember that any playtime activity that involves shaking should be done very gently.  One way to let your child experience the feeling of shaking is to gently bounce him on your lap.

Our activity this week was Scarves!

































Our play time with scarves took on a "heroic" theme this week, which was perfect for our summer reading program theme, "Every Hero Has a Story"!























Each Baby & Me Storytime includes activities that support one or more of the five early literacy practices identified as essential in helping your child develop the skills they need before they can learn to read. The five practices – singing, talking, reading, playing and writing –were developed for Every Child Ready to Read®, an initiative of the Association for Library Services for Children (ALSC) and the Public Library Association (PLA).

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Heartland Heroes Storytime ~ The Hero in All of Us!

The 2015 Summer Reading Program, entitled "Every Hero Has a Story", has given Michelle and me a great opportunity to highlight the wonderful work done by many men and women in our community.  We decided to call our main storytime "Heartland Heroes Storytime" as a way to honor and feature a variety of professions that might be of interest to children.  Each week we will invite two Heartland Heroes to be our guest at Storytime, where they will answer questions from the children and chat with them informally about the work they do.



Rhyme:

Superhero, Superhero!

Superhero, Superhero, turn around.
Superhero, Superhero, touch the ground.
Superhero, Superhero, put on your suit.
Superhero, Superhero, put on your boots. 
Superhero, Superhero, jump up high!
Superhero, Superhero, fly, fly, fly!



"Superhero, Superhero, turn around!"




"Superhero, Superhero, touch the ground!"


Military Heroes

This week, our focus was on heroes: the hero is all of us!  Our guest on July 8 was Tracey Andreasen, a wife, mom and patron of our library.  Michael Batchelder, a reporter with The Bellevue Leader, joined us on July 9. 


Books:
Used for Tracey Andreasen's visit:



Just Me and My Mom by Mercer Mayer






Supersister by Beth Cadena, illustrated by Frank W. Dormer








Books:
Used for Michael Batchelder's visit:

Telephone by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace




Activity:


 Extension Activities:
We played a game of "Telephone".  We were discussing the importance of reporters reporting correct information so Miss Michelle set up the scenario: A robber stole doughnuts and she whispered what he was wearing to one child:  Blue pants, stripped shirt, brown hair.  That info was whispered from child to child until it arrived at the last child who reported being told: "A man with pants had messy hair."!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Baby & Me Storytime ~ June 24 & 25, 2015

This Baby & Me Storytime was presented at Bellevue Public Library on June 24 & 25, 2015.

Book:
Where is Baby's Yummy Tummy? by Karen Katz











Songs:


Hello, Friends!
(tune: "Goodnight Ladies")

Hello friends.
Hello friends.
Hello friends.
We're glad you came today!


I Can Make My Hands Go Clap
(tune: “Muffin Man”)

I can make my hands go clap,
Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.
I can make my hands go clap.
They're a part of me!

Additional verses: 
I can make my:
...feet go tap...
...eyes go blink...
...arms go hug...
...hands go wave...
...lips go kiss...

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Whenever you sing this song (or any other classic children's song!) to your child, remember that he or she is just starting to learn and enjoy it!  Give your child the added dimension of a tactile experience as you sing or play music.  You might enjoy rocking your child in rhythm with the song, patting your hand on Baby's back or chest, helping your child to do "bicycle legs" in the air as you sing, let your child experience "up and down" or "side to side" movement while he/she listens to the music, etc.


Rhymes:

I Saw a Snake Go By One Day
(© Lois Simmie)  

I saw a snake go by one day (make snake motion with arm)
Riding in his Chevrolet (hands on steering wheel)
He was long (extend arms to show "long")
And he was thin (arms show "thin")
And he didn't have a chin. (point to chin)

He had no chin,
But what the heck (shrug)
He had lots and lots and lots of neck! (touch or tickle baby's neck)

Our activity this week was Hand Puppets!



video

video
video









Each Baby & Me Storytime includes activities that support one or more of the five early literacy practices identified as essential in helping your child develop the skills they need before they can learn to read. The five practices – singing, talking, reading, playing and writing –were developed for Every Child Ready to Read®, an initiative of the Association for Library Services for Children (ALSC) and the Public Library Association (PLA).