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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

Thalia Book Club Camp: Week 3 Day 5

Published on August 1, 2014

How can it be Friday already?  Week 3 has zipped by. In preparation for Brian Selznick’s visit, campers did “erasure poetry,” choosing words from a page of text from Wonderstruck, and “erasing” others. The results were very striking.  They also learned some American sign language and were able to sign things like “we love your book,” and “we love book camp.”




This morning we met with Brian Selznick, author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo CabretWonderstruck, and many other books.  We learned a lot about how Brian thinks and works and creates.  It was a fun and fascinating morning.
Brian told us about his childhood love of books, in particular a picture book called Fortunately by Remy Charlip. He shared the book with us and told us that what had struck him when he was a kid was that every time you turned the page, something bad or good (fortunately/unfortunately) happened. He also noticed that the “bad” pages were in black and white and the “good” pages were in color. Making these observations, he realized he was beginning to think like a children’s book creator. He did a lot of drawing, including copying lots of paintings by grand masters. One of his favorite artists was Leonardo Da Vinci. He loved copying his drawings and practicing shading, learning a technique called “cross hatching.” He grew up and went to art school, but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he graduated.  While he was at school, one of his projects was a 3D creation about Harry Houdini, whom he was fascinated by. At the end of school he put the project in a closet and forgot about it.  After school, he decided that he might want to make children’s books so he got a job at Books of Wonder children’s bookstore in New York.  He figured that he’d be able to read a lot of children’s books,   meet a lot of kids and see what they’re interested in, and figure out how to create children’s books.  When he decided to make his first children’s book, he remembered his Houdini project from art school, pulled it out of the closet and created The Houdini Box   — his author/illustrator career was launched!
Brian told us all about the history of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which had many inspirations – including the history of automatons, the film A Trip to the Moon by George Melies, and the history of cinema. He described his process, which involved lots of reading and research, field trips to places like the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the train stations of Paris, and watching lots of old movies.   He explained his process for visualizing characters for his books:  he imagines what a character might look like and then looks for a real person to model the character on.  When he was looking for a model for his drawings of George Melies, he happened to meet Remy Charlip (the author of his favourite children’s book, Fortunately) and noticed that Charlip was the spitting image of Melies!  Charlip agreed to pose for the illustrations –  it made Brian very happy to include one of his childhood heroes in his book!  Brian was hoping to make Hugo Cabret in its pacing and structure feel like a movie.  He got the idea of moving back and forth between words and pictures in a new way.  He showed us lots of photos from the making of the movie Hugo.

When he was ready to start a new book,  Brian decided to take the storytelling style he had “invented” for Hugo in a different direction —  to tell one story just  in pictures and another just in words and then have them come together.  When he started conceptualizing this book, he knew what he wanted the structure to be but he didn’t have a story. Then he happened to see a film about the history of deaf people and suddenly he realized that the deaf experience the world mostly through visuals; he decided to focus the picture-story in his new book on a deaf girl.  And it all evolved from there.  He showed us his tiny thumb-print sketches and mockups, many drafts of his manuscript, with lots of notes and suggestions from his editor.  Brian’s book creation process is fascinating:  he talked about places (including the wolves diorama at the Museum of Natural History) and books (including From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) that inspired him.

We did a cool writing and drawing exercise and finally got to hear about and see some top-secret images from his new book in progress.  Our lips are sealed until the book comes out in the fall of 2015.  We can’t wait to read it!

After lunch we went into the Thalia Theater for our end-of-week share which had a lot of variety.  Things started off hilariously with the improve game “Bus Stop,” in which one person is sitting on a bench waiting for a bus.  A second person sits down next to them and tries to be as annoying as possible.  The goal is to get the first person to get so fed up that they leave.  We had doofuses, murderers, needy best friends, and an incessant clapper! Other campers shared their recommendations for great books, including: Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, Hush, Savvy, Freaky Friday, Billion for Boris, Summer Switch, The Ranger’s Apprentice Series, and Princess Bride.  We were treated to two lovely songs, some original writing (with illustrations!), a funny skit about going to a combination ballet and book camp, and an in-depth lesson on how to create your own Jedi by the Star Wars Geek Team. 
Returning to the camp room, we had a party, signed each other’s photo card, exchanged emails, cleaned up and – alas! – said good-bye.  We hope we see everyone again next summer or BEFORE!

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