Weird Books

weird books I’m over on Cotsen’s curatorial blog today, sharing a collections education program we did with 9-12 year-olds. The program was titled “Weird Books,” and our goal was to show kids the unusual formats books can take (including this miniature book housed in a walnut shell). Intrigued?

Click here to go to the post!

Can’t get enough special collections stuff? You might be interested in this post on a pricey little doodle, this post in which I get to pet Charles Dickens’ writing desk, this post on what appears to be an ancient code (but is not), and this post about the very first Jemima Puddleduck stuffed toy.

Aliisa the Artist

self portrait_artwork by aliisa leeFor the past four years, I have had the privilege of working with an extremely talented Princeton University student artist. Her name is Aliisa Lee, and she has loaned her tremendous abilities to a whole host of artistic endeavors at our library – project templates, event posters, logos, illustrations for children’s stories and poetry, and more.

summer announcement logo_artwork by aliisa lee

Summer announcement logo

hungry caterpillar food drive logo_artwork by aliisa lee

Very Hungry Caterpillar food drive logo. Food drive title and art inspired by the work of Eric Carle.

bad hair day_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Bad Hair Day”

the dragon princess_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Dragon Princess”

Below you can see some steampunk templates she designed for a Journey to the Centre of the Earth event (later, I used the templates for a Rube Goldberg-esque mechanism and a fanciful steampunk airship story time).

steampunk hat

And how about these delightful vanilla-scented French pastry ornaments? Mmmm.

ornaments

Aliisa’s also worked on completely random (and sometimes rather strange) projects. She didn’t, for example, bat an eye when asked to make 80s paint splatter background.

welcome to the 80s

Or create a police line up of book damage perpetrators

lineup of book baddies

Or depict Hiccup and Toothless at the movies…?

hiccup and tootheless at the movies_artwork by aliisa lee

Last month, Aliisa graduated from Princeton University with a major in English and a minor in Visual Arts. I caught up with her to chat about her experience at Cotsen, her process for illustration, and what she’s going to do next (including – and this is important – continuing to freelance for us).


Tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up in the sunny state of Hawaii, but have since moved abroad several times. I am the fourth of six crazy kids, and all of our names start with A. It makes for some fun confusion when we are all together! In my free time, I love reading, writing, and (you guessed it), drawing. I especially enjoy drawing digitally by using my computer, Photoshop, and a Wacom pen and tablet.

Name a few of your favorite artists / inspirations.

I really look up to the artists of my favorite childrens’ books, like Clement Hurd, Mary Blair, Bill Peet, and Henry J. Ford. I am also a huge fan of Pixar and Studio Ghibli, with all their inspiring storytelling and fantasy elements. I follow many digital artists on tumblr, but I also just I love getting ideas from literature, dreams, and of course, my family and friends!

What have been some of your favorite projects for the Cotsen Children’s Library?

Hmmmm, that’s such a hard question. I’m a bit of a podcast nerd these days, so I loved doing the album art for the BiblioFiles.

bibliofiles artwork by aliisa lee

I am also a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth, so the Alice thaumatropes and the Digitopolis posters and logo were a great way to pay tribute to some of my beloved texts.

thaumatrope demo

digitopolis by aliisa lee

My favorite type of project is probably illustrating for our time’s new generation of writers and poets. If I have to choose one assignment that I especially treasure, it would be the art for “The Sun Lifted Me Away.” The young author’s father wrote to us later that his daughter loved the drawing for her poem; hearing that the young author was so happy with what I drew makes that illustration one of my favorite projects!

the sun lifted me away_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Sun Lifted Me Away”

You’ve illustrated kids poems and stories. What’s your process for selecting and illustrating specific scenes or phrases?

It varies piece to piece! Sometimes Dr. Dana will have a fairly specific suggestion for a scene, which has trained my eye and always helps with the process. When the illustration is more up in the air, I often read for specific lines and imagery that stand out, and draw fairly literally from that. (For example, a line from “The Pit,” that says “He clasped the edge and began his ascent.” A very dramatic, specific scene gets a very dramatic drawing.)

the pit_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Pit”

Or, if the piece has more atmosphere than narrative, I brainstorm for scenes or visuals that reflect that feeling. (For example, the poem “Autumn is a Color, Not a Season” is all about the feel of autumn. The drawing and colors reflects this.)

autumn is a color, not a season_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Autumn is a Color, Not a Season”

What surprised you the most about the process of developing, editing, and finalizing a drawing for Cotsen?

Before working for Cotsen, most of my art was just kept to myself or my personal site. When you are doodling in your notebook or drawing just to show your family and friends, you “finish” an art piece when you are satisfied or just get tired of it. One of the greatest things about working with Cotsen and an art director (Dr. Dana!) is having another pair of eyes to help look critically at a piece, then develop it with the ultimate goal of publication. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how that process and push to make polished illustrations has just made me a better critical thinker and artist. Plus, it is a ton of fun to draw for Cotsen!

storm_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Storm”

In your opinion, what’s the most difficult thing about illustration?

This has probably happened to anyone who has tried to make art: you get a beautiful, inspiring image in your head and you just think, “I NEED to draw this.” But after you sit down and draw, you realize your art just doesn’t measure up to the image your mind conjured up.

This happens to me a lot, especially since the poems and stories I read have such beautiful and creative moments. But it makes we want to work hard to be a better illustrator, since I want to close that gap between what my mind can create and what my hand can draw.

Still, I know that even if I was the best illustrator in the world, I could never quite pin down exactly what my mind envisioned. That could seem frustrating, but it is also kind of beautiful! The imaginations we are given are actually the best artists we could ask for, you know?

the enchanted machine_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Enchanted Machine”

Tell us a little about your senior show!

I would love to! My show was entitled “to wake” and included 80+ digital drawings, printed out in various sizes and placed around the space of the gallery. As you walked around left to right, the images sequentially told the story of a mother and daughter, plus a little bit of the fantastic as they traveled in the subway.

to wake 1_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 2_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 3_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 4_artwork by aliisa leeIt was very, very cool to have my own show, and to use the gallery space for both art and storytelling (two things I love!)

What are you going to do next?

I’m hitting the real world and getting a job. As a Princeton Project 55 Fellow, I’ll be working in communications at the non-profit International Schools Services, not that far from Princeton’s campus, actually. I can’t stop making art, so I will also be illustrating for Dana (and maybe a few other clients if I’m successful in expanding my freelance network). You haven’t seen the last of me yet! :)

poets_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Poets”


If you’d like to see Aliisa’s amazing portfolio, it’s online here. If you’d like to read a little more about her artistic process, she wrote a great post for Princeton University’s admissions blog here.

Thank you for 4 tremendous, tremendous years Aliisa! And here’s to many more!

A Hidden Gem

index cIf you happen to be on Greene Street, on New York University’s campus, on just the right day, you might notice a parade of strollers and eager children piling into an inconspicuous brown brick building. There, on the 5th floor, is a beautiful little gem of a children’s library – the Constantine Georgiou Library and Resource Center for Children and Literature.

index 2dThe library honors author, scholar, and late NYU Steinhardt professor Constantine Georgiou (you might recognize one of his books, The Clock, from this story time post). It houses, and continues to grow, Georgiou’s children’s literature collection, and is the home to NYU’s Clinical Literacy Practicum, which offers intensive tutoring for grade 1 through high school.

The library also offers community story times, programs, learning initiatives, innovative collaborations, and panel discussion (check out this one with Kwame Alexander!), which are developed, coordinated, and oft delivered by, super librarian Kendra Tyson.

image 2 copy aKendra offers three weekly infant and toddler morning story times. Twice weekly, she heads offsite to local schools to lead emergent literacy programs. Additionally, she hosts student field observations for the Office of Clinical Studies, facilitates events with the Office of Community Affairs, leads professional development workshops, and guest lectures in Teaching & Learning courses at NYU. She’s a busy, busy woman.

On a side note (but I have to mention it because it is so awesome) Kendra is launching a collaborative read-aloud program with historic homes, beginning with Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt’s family home in Long Island. She’s hoping that the pilot program, which merges picture book biographies with objects in the historic home setting, will be the ultimate primary source experience. As I said, awesome.

image 1 copy a

The last time I was in New York City, I stopped by the Constantine Georgiou Library to snap a few pictures of this beautiful, charming space.

a hidden gemThough it has no windows to the exterior of the building, the room’s high ceilings, ample overhead lighting, and fresh natural and green colors give the little library a feeling of space and light. And check out those big, green, belly-flopping ottomans. Don’t they look like speech bubbles?

Running the length of two walls are rows and rows of book shelves. On some, the book are divided into sections of special interest.

shapes and math sectionsOn others, there stacked next to cute little flourishes and kid-friendly props. I especially like this little Egyptian statue with a sepia-tinted world map.

shelf decorThere’s also a section of flat shelves that allow you to display the books by cover. I would love some of these in my library! Nothing says “pick me up!” more than a colorful book cover!

display shelvesThe lower shelves of the library hold the board books, which are stored in clear bins for easy browsing.

board book binsAnd not too far away from the books are Kendra’s puppets, resting up for their next story time performance.

library puppetsAround the library, kid-size tables (and a few adult ones) are scattered, each holding toys to grab, or books to read!

library table 1library table 2

OK, this next photo’s not exactly glamorous, but the practical part of me loved it. The underside of a counter being used for extra chair storage. No ugly stacks of chairs threatening to topple on toddlers here!

under counter storageI’m a sucker for cute mobiles (as documented in this post). This airy geometric mobile offered the perfect pop of color in the corner.

library mobileJust outside the main door to the library is an open space for stroller parking, and wooden risers for larger performances or group visitors.

lobby of libraryHere’s a closer shot of the front entryway…

windowDon’t you love the built-in window that doubles as an exhibit space?

window exhibitI know New Yorkers have to do clever things with limited space, and this little one-room library is the perfect example of how to be big, spacious, fun, and fresh in a small space. They don’t mind getting messy either! Here’s a shot of a Jackson Pollock-style drip painting program complete with acrylic paints, canvases, paintbrushes, and ping pong balls (as well as read alouds of The Dot (Candlewick, 2003), and Action Jackson (Square Fish, 2007)).

IMG_9261 dThe Constantine Georgiou Library and Resource Center for Children and Literature is open Monday-Thursdays, 9:00-4:00, and Fridays, 9:00-2:00. If you’re in the area, definitely go for a visit!

index 1d


Program images courtesy of the Constantine Georgiou Library and Resource Center for Children and Literature.