Friday, July 19, 2013


I have always known about the Mazza Museum at the University of Findlay, as well as the Mazza Conference. But this was my first visit to the Findlay campus, the Museum  and the Conference.

Wednesday was Day 3 and what a marvelous setting and conference!

The keynote speaker for afternoon was Caldecott Medalist  Ed Young.  He has illustrated over eighty books for children, seventeen of which he has also written.  You may read more about him here.

This delightful and energetic octogenarian  has been writing and illustrating books since I was a baby teacher. I have watched his work change, grow, and develop into the stunningly beautiful art he creates today.

On my shelves of picture books, his work stands among my all time favorite selections.

Although I own and love many of his works, yesterday he focused on  his process in conceptualizing and creating The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China .

This book has won multiple awards, including: Booklist Top 10 Art Books for Youth 2011, Booklist Editor's Choice for Youth 2011, Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books 2011, ALA Notable Children's Book 2012, the Norman A. Sugarman Children's Biography Award 2012 and several others.

Through remarkable art, photos, and words this memoir unfolds--the story of lives lived in a special house built  in Shang Hai  by Young's father that would shelter his entire family and others through the war.

Whisperings of the story began in the 80's when  Young went back to China after 18 years.  He described how he initially couldn't find the house, and then subsequently once found, was allowed to go in and look at what remained.

He wryly gained more and more access to the house as he shared fascinating tidbits with the  reluctant current owner.
  • The roof where the man fell and died when the house was being built.
  • The hall as a bomb shelter--the safest place in the house.
  • The sagging staircase where he and siblings slid down the banisters.
  • And the pool- among only 3 private pools in Shang Hai at the time-- his father, having been brought up in the United States, wanted his kids to know how to swim.
Young wanted his children to know the story of his growing up in this house.
This was the start of the book without me knowing it.
As he began work on his book, he enlisted his engineer brothers' help in remembering and recreating the floor plan of the house.

I was surprised to learn of the number of versions, approaches, and respective rejections or suggested rewrites before the final form that we know and love. Early ideas and drafts included:
  • rhyming verses about objects in the home presenting general impressions- not a chronological story
  •  a tour of the house through the various rooms
  • and because Jewish family came to also live in the house, an early title suggestion was  My Chinese Brother and Jewish Sister
He finally decided on a biographical approach in chronological order

We were treated to a slideshow of art and  illustrations drafts of illustrations, and work that did not make it into the book .
Click here to visit a website devoted to the book--with a slideshow of art work that did not go into book.

As a final surprise--Jean, his " Jewish sister" was present in the audience.  In true sister form, she took full credit for him being an artist today:
He would only draw boy things.  I tried to get him to draw girl things.  I discovered him--- and I am glad he followed up. 
So are we, Jean, so are we!

Do you want to explore more of Ed Young's Work? Here are two of his newer works


and two of his classic works to enjoy.


  Today's Deeper Writing Possibiities

Revisit a house in which you used to live. This may be a literal revisiting like Ed Young's, or it may be simply reflecting back in your mind.

Draw a floor plan of the house.

Add objects and notes to your sketch to remind yourself of  people, relationships and events that took place in each room or area of your house.

Write a poem, narrative, or essay about your house. 

Below is a poem I wrote about one of the houses in which I lived as a child--we all believe it was haunted.

Our House

Revisiting my house
In Shepard, in my old neighborhood
Reminded me of the creakiness
The sneakiness
The built-in/live-in
Evil that resided
In our walls
And flushed our toilets
At night and…
Breathed on us while we slept
And made us dream …..bad dreams,
We, awaking screaming,
My sister and I,
The same horrible round face
Emblazoned on the wall of our room
Branded into our brains

We didn’t often
speak aloud
About the idiosyncrasies of the house
The normal terror --
Until we left it.

Then a rush of words celebrated our release.
Then a hush of words covered our relief.

I wonder if the new inhabitants

are silent….too.


  1. The Mazza Museum is a gem in our state! I attended the Summer Conference last year and what a great, friendly, fun and organized conference that is!

    1. Stella,
      I agree. This museum and conference is one of the best kept secrets. The campus was beautiful and the the conference has a relaxed feel. One of our CAWP summer institute participants from this year, Liz Deskins, presented on Wednesday. Her presentation on New Nonfiction Books was excellent.
      I will be returning as often as I can to this conference.