Worlds at His Fingertips

worlds at his fingertips artwork by keenu haleBoats float on the stars, a scarecrow waltzes with crows, a magic wand transforms a snowman, a box bursts with enthusiastic jazz musicians. These are the images and worlds created by talented local artist, Keenu Hale. Today, I’m going to sing his praises.

artist keenu haleFor several years, Keenu has been a welcome guest at Cotsen Critix, our literary society for kids ages 9-12 (you also might recall hearing about him and his awesome cartooning skills at our How to Train Your Dragon event). A few facts about Keenu: he won his first drawing contest at 18 months; he is an artist with autism; he was featured in a television interview for the AttachAvi Autism Foundation in 2016; he generously gives his time to children’s hospitals, autism fundraisers, and art festivals; he is currently an animation major at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. In short, Keenu totally rocks.

jazz musicians by keenu hale

Keenu’s draws inspiration from Jim Henson and Tim Burton. Jim Henson for his odd, slapstick humor, and Tim Burton for his dark, somewhat creepy worlds. You can see how he blends both perfectly.

class photo with frame artwork by keenu haleheadless horseman artwork by keenu halegoats artwork by keenu halesnowman artwork by keenu haleKeenu has hundreds of original characters and story lines. Take, for example, his debut comic book, Life in the Suburbs. In the story, a human boy named Timmy lives with his non-human scarecrow family. While Burlap and Cotton (his parents), are happy to live on the farm, Timmy wants to live in the suburbs. But as Timmy and his siblings Lacy and Jinko learn, moving in and fitting in are two very different things! The comic is charming, funny, and really nicely paced.

life in the suburbs by keenu haleKeenu also collaborated with his cousin to produce Queen, You Are Beautiful! It follows the life of Queen, a young girl who must deal with bullies and discover her inner beauty.

queen you are beautiful artwork by keenu hale queen image 2 artwork by keenu halequeen image 3 artwork by keenu haleWhen Keenu visits our library, we always start with an interview and a viewing of his vast portfolio. Then he does a drawing exercise with the kids. At the very end of the workshop, Keenu makes custom freehand drawings of whatever characters the kids can think of. He does each drawing in minutes. It’s amazing. Here are just a few from his last visit (including one of his own characters, Rosemary):

quick characters by keenu hale


Many thanks to Keenu for allowing us to share his art! All images courtesy of the artist.

Mindful Mismatching

mindful mismatchingWe’ve created plenty of matching games at story time, but what about an un-matching game? Search under the snow to find 4 leaves for your bird nest. But look carefully – no two leaves can be alike!

We read No Two Alike by Keith Baker (Beach Lane Books, 2011). Two red birds journey through a winter woods, observing everything from snowflakes to animal tracks. Trees, nests, branches, leaves, even patterns on feathers – each thing is different, and that’s something to admire!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4” – a small tissue box works too)
  • Brown and red construction paper
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 2 small feathers, each a different color
  • 2 small triangles of self-adhesive foam
  • 2 pairs of eye stickers
  • 1 un-matching leaf game (more on that below!)
  • Scissors, tape and glue for construction

red birds in nest

We’ll begin with your bird nest! To make the birds, wrap 2 toilet paper tubes with red construction paper. Cut wings from construction paper and attach to the tube. Use triangles of self-adhesive foam for the beaks (or snippets of yellow construction paper). We used eye stickers, but you can also draw the eyes on with marker. In the book, the birds are almost identical (but not quite). So we added two different color feather crests.

two red birdsTo make the nest, cut a box down to 2.5″ and then wrap it with strips of brown construction paper. We used multicultural construction paper, cut into different jagged lengths. Attach the strips to the box with tape or glue.

box nestSet the birds and nest aside for a moment, it’s time for the game! I had some “Fabric Fall Leaves” from Discount School Supply (a pack of 200 costs $6). Katie used a permanent marker to draw 24 sets of leaves. Each set consisted of 4 shapes – a triangle, a rectangle, a circle, and a square.

leaves marked with shapesWe scattered all 96 leaves on top of a brown bed sheet…

leaves on sheetAnd heaped a ton of polyester fill “snow” on top of them.

snow on leaf sheetThe story time kids dug into the snow to find a set of leaves, keeping in mind that the shapes on the leaves could NOT match! I did, however, post drawings of the shapes nearby, so they could remember which shapes they were looking for.

I was worried the game was going to be a crazy digging frenzy but it was actually quite relaxed as kids quietly dug and searched for the leaves to tuck into their nests.

searching for leaves

If you ARE in the mood for matching games, check out our cookie-eating cow,  our shopping spree with a fox, the sweetest little post office ever, and our giant burger relay race!

From Arwen to Zombie

from arwen to zombieGet into character with a little bit of stage magic! This winter, we hosted a fantastic hands-on (or arguably, a face-on) workshop about how actors use makeup to transform themselves into a character. The workshop was expertly and enthusiastically taught by Jenny Scudder from Youth Stages, a local arts-in-education organization.

Jenny began the workshop by sharing visual examples of literary characters – Queen of Hearts, Arwen, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Wicked Witch of the West, Dracula, Frankenstein, Count Olaf, and a few Cats from the musical of the same name (you might recall that Cats is based on poems by T.S. Eliot). There were also zombies, which might have been a stretch unless you consider Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? The Walking Dead graphic novel?

Here’s Jenny, taking the kids through examples of all the characters:

jenny scudder, youth stages 1Next, Jenny discussed how, in addition to makeup, actors can also use their voices, gestures, costumes, props, and sets to bring their characters to life. She described what stage makeup is (big, bold, and expressive) and what it isn’t (it’s not meant for close-up photography like a fashion shoot). As she was lecturing, Jenny was effortlessly applying her own stage makeup, which was Grizabella from Cats.

jenny scudder, youth stages 2Jenny also talked about the names of the different brushes, and techniques for application. Finally, she brought out some latex scars and gashes she had prepared in advance. My forearm became the test subject for a massive latex scar, some red base makeup, a loaded stipple brush, and some fake blood. Here I am, modeling the finished product in my usual subtle way.

scar demoFinally, it was time to turn the artists loose on the makeup! There was plenty of it. Jars, palettes, sponges, pencils, brushes…the works!

makeupJenny divided the kids into pairs so each pair would have someone to assist with the application of his/her makeup. I really liked this because it meant that the kids weren’t sitting passively, having their faces done by adults. They were actively involved in the whole process.

applying makeup

However, Jenny, Katie, and I did jump in to help. For awhile, I was running the “soon to be bloody flaps of skin” corner of the room.

Ready to see some results? Even though there was quite a bit of smiling and laughing, I did encourage the kids to try to stay “in character” while I was photographing them. I’ll begin with Arwen, who you saw at the beginning of the post:

We had no less than 3 Queens of Hearts…

As well as 3 Cheshire Cats.

A pair of Vampires…

Rum Tum Tugga from Cats

The Wicked Witch of the West…

And a quartet of zombies. I told them to give me their best undead look…

Do you recognize the zombie on the far left from the beginning of the blog? The funny thing was, we never planned to photograph her with her hood up. As it turned out, she had to walk home from the program in full makeup. In order to not freak anyone out, she pulled her hood up. It looked so fantastic, I had to take a photograph!