But first, a short essay on the finest piece of writing I’ve encountered in a long time, and the unlikely place in which I found it

From the Cluttered Desk of Philip Stead (with Erin sitting close by):
Before we begin I would like to tell you a little story. Last October Erin and I were asked to give a talk at the Nashville Book Festival. Public speaking has a way of agitating our already naturally nervous energies and so, after the presentation, we decided to take a walk around town, hoping eventually to stumble on a nice place to eat lunch. There were long waits at every place we passed and it wasn’t long before we were too hungry and too tired to keep searching. We ended up knee deep in an hour long wait for a table at a restaurant with a less than promising menu. Also, it was loud. Very loud. I do not love noise, and I am extremely impatient when hungry. These are not my best qualities. I needed to find some way to pass the time or risk pestering Erin to the brink of marital disaster. So I pulled out a paper I’d bought earlier that day, The Contributor.

The Contributor

The Contributor is a paper written and distributed primarily by Nashville’s homeless and formerly homeless population. Back in Ann Arbor, where we live, we’ve got a similar paper called Groundcover. I’m consistently amazed by the quality of content in Groundcover and I always try to pick up a copy when I pass a vendor. It’s more than worth the dollar it costs. The Contributor was similarly impressive. I started on page one and was able to effectively occupy my mind until our names were called. I was still reading when we sat down, and with the sounds of Hotel California blaring over the loudspeakers and the smell of LOCO BURGER and/or MILE HIGH NACHOS in the air, I turned to The Contributor‘s poetry section.

Unrelated Side Note: My local free form radio station, WCBN, once played Hotel California continuously during Pledge Week until someone called in with a pledge of $100 to make it stop. File that under: Genius Moves, subcategory, Clever Fundraising Strategies.

Anyhow, in the most unlikely of settings, and in the most unlikely of publications I stumbled on one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve ever seen.

This is what I read:

TONY

that was his name

he was such a

wonderful horse

and pulled a milk

truck

for Tom, the young

driver

Tom Jones

in the early hours of the

morning,

pulling the wagon loaded

with milk, butter,

and eggs,

Tony was all white,

large, sturdy,

with wide gentle eyes

and a ton of love,

he would wait patiently

while Tom jumped off the

wagon to put my

milk and eggs on

my doorstep,

it was early in the morning

around three a.m.,

but I was up, and would

go out and pat Tony with

my gentle arms, and

his head would bow down

and his eyes would glow

and Tom would say

nice to see you out so early,

sir,

and Tony always looks

for you too,

wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,

I would reply

sturdily,

giving Tony another pat,

he is such a wonderful

horse, and so handsome.

I am sure he heard

that, Tom would

smile widely,

as he got back into

the truck

and as they pulled away

I knew that Tony

did a little dance

 

-Ed Galing, Formerly Homeless Poet

Wow. The room went silent for me and I read it again:

TONY

that was his name

he was such a

wonderful horse

and pulled a milk

truck

for Tom, the young

driver

Tom Jones

in the early hours of the

morning,

pulling the wagon loaded

with milk, butter,

and eggs,

Tony was all white,

large, sturdy,

with wide gentle eyes

and a ton of love,

he would wait patiently

while Tom jumped off the

wagon to put my

milk and eggs on

my doorstep,

it was early in the morning

around three a.m.,

but I was up, and would

go out and pat Tony with

my gentle arms, and

his head would bow down

and his eyes would glow

and Tom would say

nice to see you out so early,

sir,

and Tony always looks

for you too,

wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,

I would reply

sturdily,

giving Tony another pat,

he is such a wonderful

horse, and so handsome.

I am sure he heard

that, Tom would

smile widely,

as he got back into

the truck

and as they pulled away

I knew that Tony

did a little dance

-Ed Galing, Formerly Homeless Poet

I really cannot understate the effect that this writing had on me. It was like the poem picked me up and spun me around, reorienting my whole self in space. This is, I suppose, exactly what great art ought to do.

In a few short lines TONY accomplishes everything that I try to achieve as writer, illustrator, and human being. I am still staggered by it. I would go on here, but I’ve always believed that writing about great art has the unintentional consequence of diminishing it in some way.

So I’ll shut up before I ruin it.

Somehow between Nashville and Ann Arbor I lost my copy of The Contributor. Nearly three months passed but I couldn’t get TONY out of my mind. It became important to me that I have a copy of that poem. And so, just a few weeks ago I wrote a short letter to the editor of The Contributor:

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I have a somewhat unusual request. Last October I was visiting Nashville from Michigan for the Book Festival. After I gave my talk I was walking through town when I encountered a vendor for The Contributor. I purchased a paper and tucked it away. Later that day I pulled the paper out while waiting for a table in a loud and crowded restaurant. I turned to the poetry section and was practically moved to tears by one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’d encountered in a long, long time. It was a simple poem about a boy waiting to greet a milk cart horse.

Unfortunately the paper was lost sometime during my travels back to Michigan. I am writing to you in hopes that you could send me a copy, either digital or physical, of the poem. If this is at all possible I would be very much appreciative.

Thank You, and Happy New Year.

Sincerely,

Philip Stead

Mr Anderson wrote me back right away:

Dear Mr. Stead,

Thank you so much for inquiring about the poem, “Tony.” I’m glad it touched you so deeply. The poet is one of our most prolific writers, and a dear friend to the staff of The Contributor, named Ed Galing. He passed away last month at the age of 96. I would be happy to send to you a hard copy of the Oct. 3-23, 2013, issue. However, please know I’d have to charge you $3 for the paper and postage — non-profit organization, shoestring budget, etc. Perhaps this free-of-charge snapshot from the page that poem appeared will suffice? Regardless, thank you so very much for reaching out. Knowing Ed’s words moved you is such welcome news during a time that our office is grieving his loss.

Sincerely from cold and snowy Nashville,

Skip Anderson

Editor, The Contributor

I hope that Ed Galing would forgive me my violation of his copyright as I print his poem here in its entirety. But today, MLK Day, seems like an appropriate time to share his work. This poem reminds me that there are beautiful things happening in the world that go unnoticed. I am thankful today for the work that The Contributor, Groundcover, and other similar publications do to give voice to otherwise unheard-from populations. It is important work, and it goes on way, WAY behind the scenes.  I am also thankful today for Ed Galing. I know very little about the man. But I do know that he left something lasting and important for us to remember him by. Something worth sharing. Every one of us should try and do the same.

P.S. Please consider making a small donation to The Contributor today. Small amounts go a long way for organizations like this, and the work they do is irreplaceable. Please visit: http://thecontributor.org/donate/

P.P.S. Ed Galing really was a prolific and gifted poet. Google search: “Ed Galing poetry” and you will be richly rewarded.

AND NOW TO THE AWARDS:

Before we begin I’d like to remind you (or introduce you) to why we do this. We published this disclaimer a few years back, and it is still very much relevant to how we feel today:

Every year for the last [five] years Erin and I have compiled a list of our favorite books of the year. The internet is overflowing with best-of lists and worst-of lists and everything in between. We don’t claim that the books on our list are the absolute “best-ofs” of [2013]. To be honest I’m not sure if it’s possible, or even productive, to limit books in that way. Books mean different things to different people. One book can mean drastically different things to the same person across the span of a lifetime. This does not diminish the power of books. It adds to their mystery. In assembling our list we’re merely trying to share the books that meant something special to us at this point in our lives. These are books that challenged us to be better writers and illustrators. There are hundreds of fantastic books that are released every year, many of which go unnoticed (including by us). That is the fault of chance or of Erin and I directly, not of the books themselves. Some books we failed to see. Some books we were not ready to see.

That pretty much sums it. We feel incredibly grateful to the authors and illustrators who worked to give us the books you see below. Each one of them, like Mr. Galing, has left something beautiful for us to ponder—something to pick us up, spin us around, and reorient our whole selves in space.

Cue drum roll…

The 5th Annual Phildecott Awards go to (in no specific order)….

Building Our House

Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean

Erin and I are both in awe of this book. It’s the kind of book that makes us excited all over again for the possibilities of picture book making. Jonathan Bean straddles a line here between fiction, non-fiction, and even personal essay. He does so with an effortless grace and an unwavering respect for the child reader.

Rosie's Magic Horse

Rosie’s Magic Horse, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake

My good friend, author/illustrator Matthew Cordell, first turned us on to this title. It’s no secret that Quentin Blake has been my favorite illustrator since the age of about six. At 81 years old Mr. Blake is still at the top of this game. This book is beautiful and weird in the best possible way. It’s apparent lightness is balanced by an unmistakable seriousness. The whole thing comes together into one of the most emotionally complex picture books you’re likely to find.

The Animal Book

The Animal Book, by Steve Jenkins

Oh, Steve Jenkins. This is not Steve’s first Phildecott, and I doubt it will be his last. If Erin and I could exchange one illustrator’s career for our own, it would probably be Steve’s. He just gets to steep himself in so much fantastic information. His work is always showing us that the natural world is stranger and more interesting than you could ever hope to imagine. This book is over 200 pages of amazing animal facts and figures, beautifully illustrated. It is the kind of book that certain kids will carry everywhere with them for years. Probably the most heavily used book at the Stead barn this year, it’s been sitting open on our coffee table for weeks.

This is Our House

This Is Our House, by Hyewon Yum

This is a book that we were lucky enough to see very early on, before publication. Like Ed’d poem, I’m hesitant to describe this book in too much detail. This book is poetry. I don’t just mean the words. I mean the entire experience. As a whole, word and image together, it achieves a certain kind of perfectness that is difficult to describe. It is a great work of art. And I am now going to shut up before I ruin it.

The Beginner's Guide to Running Away from Home

The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away, by Jennifer Larue Huget, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

Red Nose Studio, a.k.a. Chris Sickels is simply one of our favorite artists out there. He is a true original. He illustrates his books by making miniature scale models and beautifully photographing the results. His attention to detail is staggering. STAGGERING. There is one image from this book that comes to mind in particular. Mr. Sickels builds a cross-section of a house so that he can show you what each member of a family is doing at one time. What blew us away is that he actually thought to run wiring between the walls of his model house. Wow. He is a reminder to Erin and I that craft matters.

Rain!

Rain!, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson

We just love Christian Robinson. Everything he makes appeals to us. His work has a classic feel that still feels modern and original. He’s got one of the best senses of design out there amongst illustrators. He can simplify forms without losing any sense of playfulness or personality. We’re always excited to see what he’s got coming out next.

The Bear's Song

The Bear’s Song, by Benjamin Chaud

This book is just plain fun. It has the hide-and-seek element of a Where’s Waldo coupled with a narrative arc that keeps you turning the pages. This is the kind of book that is really, really difficult not to like.

Friends

Friends, by Eric Carle

Eric Carle has been making books for a long time. Because of that I think it’s easy to look past his new work, assuming that it’s just a rehash of work he’s already done in the past. Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. In my mind Mr. Carle is making some of his most interesting and original work now. Perhaps the problem is that he does it so effortlessly that we’re lulled into a misunderstanding of its complexity. Erin and I saw the original art for Friends at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art prior to its publication. We knew right away that we were seeing something really, really special. Midway through the book he shifts from a third person perspective into a first person perspective. If you’re wondering, this is a very unusual thing to do. In effect you, the reader, get to see directly through the eyes of the main character. The result is moving and memorable. This is a book that really changed our thinking. Thank you Eric Carle.

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle, by Chris Raschka

Well, it wouldn’t be a Phildecott list without at least one Chris Raschka book. Chris is a real artist’s artist. His books seems to come from a place that’s natural and free-flowing. He is the current reigning zen master of picture book art. Erin and I tend to beat ourselves and our artwork to a bloody pulp before turning it in to the publisher. I think in our minds we hope that someday our work will appear as natural as Chris’s. The struggle continues.

And now for the Steadbery’s

QUICK DISCLAIMER: This year we had a particularly difficult time keeping up with new long fiction titles. There are dozens and dozens of great books that I’m sure we completely missed. There is an unread stack next to my nightstand that proves as much. That said, this year’s Steadbery list is a bit non-traditional. But to put a positive spin on our poor reading habits, I think it’s good sometimes to shine a light on truly excellent writing found in alternative formats. Picture book writing and graphic novel writing are peculiar skills that take a long time to perfect and are generally underappreciated. Below are three texts that really knocked our socks off this year.

Again, drum roll please.

The 5th Annual Steadbery Awards go to (in no specific order)….

Poseidon

Poseidon, by George O’Connor

This is a text that really just floored me. Poseidon is the 5th in the excellent Olympians series following Zeus, Athena, Hera, and Hades. They are all extremely well done, but with Poseidon George takes the writing to a level best described as masterful. George is an old friend of ours. In fact, neither Erin or I would be published at all if it hadn’t been for George’s helping hand and big mouth. I read Poseidon in one sitting and then immediately texted George, saying this:

Poseidon is amazing. It’s the best piece of writing I’ve seen this year across all genres.

George wrote me back and said:

Stop being an idiot.

Well, George, I’ve got the last laugh now. Thanks for making something so great.

Bear and Bee

Bear and Bee, by Sergio Ruzzier

Sergio is another of our perennial favorite author/illustrators. Everything he makes we love. The art in this book is brilliant as usual, but it’s the text that really makes us want to write a fan letter. It is, in our humble opinion, the best picture book text of the year. There is not a word wasted. The characters are instantly real and believable, with hopes and fears both big and small. In addition, Bear and Bee features quite possibly the funniest single spread of the picture book year:
Bear and Bee - Inside

God, I just love that! Thanks a lot Sergio.
Rosie's Magic Horse

Rosie’s Magic Horse, by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Lastly, we have Rosie again. As I mentioned earlier it was my friend, author/illustrator Matthew Cordell, that first let us know about this book. Later on in the year Erin was talking to another friend of ours, author Mac Barnett. Erin asked Mac if there were any picture book texts that really stood out to him. Rosie’s Magic Horse was right at the top of his list. I know our sample size is small, but evidence points to the fact that this book is a real treasure.

Well, that’s it for this year folks. Thanks for reading.

It’s been a great year for books.

Sincerely,

Phil (and Erin, too)

Well, hello. How have you been? Hopefully well.

I have a confession. I hate shopping. Most blog thieves do. We usually like to tuck into shadows and stick to ourselves so, in turn, busy stores with lots of people overwhelm us. Unless – and this is a big unless – we are shopping at bookstores. The nice thing about bookstores is all of the bookshelves we can hide behind and the hardcover books we can use to shield our faces as we roam from shelf to shelf. So we get pretty excited about shopping when it comes to books. Which is why I’m happy to tell you about a wonderful idea Sherman Alexie, winner of the National Book Award and one of Erin and Philip‘s favorites, had to celebrate independent bookstores.

Here’s the deal. It’s called “Indies First” and the gist of the plan is that “book nerds become booksellers”. (Now, I’m not calling Erin a nerd but let’s be honest. She might be getting pretty close to being a book nerd, no?) What this really means is authors and illustrators go to their local independent bookstore and talk to customers about their favorite books, make recommendations, maybe sign a book or two and just generally spend a day sharing books which, I think, makes everyone involved a little happier. You can read Sherman Alexie’s whole letter here.

The date set for Indies First coincides with Small Business Saturday, which is a day dedicated to supporting small businesses throughout the country. It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving so mark your calendars! Erin and Philip will be selling books at at Nicola’s Books (2513 Jackson Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI) on Saturday, November 30 from 2 p.m. until they drop. (And I’ll be the one in the corner with the book in front of my face.)

Yours in peaceful blog theivery,
nicole

nicolas

Hello, people of the internets!

This is your faithful (if lately neglectful) blog thief, Nicole, here. Erin and Philip have been hard at work making art lately but I can tell they’re getting antsy to venture out of the studio for a little while and visit some bookstores. How can I tell? Well, they just told me about their plans to visit eleven bookstores around the country in early September! Nothing gets by me. Here’s a list below of where they’ll be (though please note times may change slightly so you may want to follow the link to the host store’s site for updated timing). I hope you will join them if they’re in a city near you!

Hello, My Name is Ruby If You Want to See a Whale

September 9, 2013
6:30 p.m.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nicola’s Books

September 10, 2013
1:00 p.m.
Los Angeles, California
Children’s Book World

September 11, 2013
10:30 a.m.
Pasadena, California
Vroman’s Bookstore

September 12, 2013
10:30 a.m.
San Francisco, California
Books Inc.

3:00 p.m.
San Jose, California
Hicklebee’s

September 13, 2013
4:00 p.m.
Salt Lake City, Utah
The King’s English Bookshop

September 14, 2013
11:00 a.m.
Boulder, Colorado
Boulder Book Store

September 15, 2013
2:00 p.m.
Denver, Colorado
Tattered Cover Book Store

September 17, 2013
10:00 a.m.
Boston, Massachusetts
Porter Square Books

September 18, 2013
4:00 p.m.
Manchester Center, Vermont
Northshire Bookstore

September 19, 2013
11:00 a.m.
Shelburne, Vermont
The Flying Pig Bookstore

TJ217-6-2012 JKT 150L CTP.indd

Hello again,

Erin doesn’t know I’m writing today and I really hope in doing so that I’m not spoiling your reading of If You Want to See a Whale. See, I am about to post the artwork from a page in the book where the elusive whale is finally revealed. And, well, I am of the belief that this page should be a complete surprise the first time you read the book. So, if you haven’t read it yet, perhaps look away.

I mean it.

Did you look away yet? Well let me suggest that you come back after because you may love the whale so much that you’d like to have a print from the book in your home. And that’s why I’m here! I just wanted to let you know we have added a print from Whale to the print sale site.

Here it is:

If you want to see a whale

If you’d like more information about this print or any other prints from Philip and Erin’s books, just click here.

Cheers,
nicole

Hello out there,
Erin’s newest book, If You Want to See a Whale is out today – happy Whale Day!

If you want to see a whale

Also, Erin and Phil will be at Ann Arbor’s newest bookstore, Literati, this Thursday evening to officially launch the book. If you’re around town and would like to join, here are the details:

If You Want to See a Whale - Book Launch
Thursday, May 9
6:30 p.m.
Literati Bookstore
124 E. Washington Street
Ann Arbor, MI

If you happen to be closer to New York, the Steads will join Whale’s author, Julie Fogliano, for an event there on Saturday morning. Here are those details:

If You Want to See a Whale - Story Time
Saturday, May 11
11:00 a.m.
Greenlight Bookstore
686 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY

I hope you can join them for an event to help celebrate Whale’s arrival!

Best wishes,
nicole

Hello!
I just wanted to share some news about an upcoming event at which both Philip and Erin will be speaking. The 7th Annual Sarah Marwil Lamstein Children’s Literature Lecture will take place on Thursday, April 11 at 5:10 p.m. in the Helmut Stern Auditorium at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (525 S. State Street, Ann Arbor, MI). The event is presented by the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan and you can read more about the series here. I think it should be a nice little Thursday night so feel free to come out if you can!

Yours Truly,
Nicole
(Blog Thief/Harmless Sharer of Events)

posterFinal_med

Hello out there,

I was in the mood to steal Erin’s blog again today so I could tell you about the new trailer Philip just made for her next book, If You Want to See a WhaleWould you like to join me in watching the trailer?

If you liked the song Phil wrote for the trailer, you can download it for free here.

There are 56 days left until May 7 when If You Want to See a Whale is released. This gives us some time to practice waiting…which I hear is a skill you will need when you want to see a whale.

Yours Truly,

Nicole
(Stead Studio Assistant and Blog Thief)

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