Friday, April 24, 2009

Author Spotlight: Anna Alter and a Give-Away of Her Newest Book!

Alter, Anna.
What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe?
Henry Holt.

Old Red Shoe Blog (Just Launched!)

This book brings me back to my childhood so much! Some of the projects are things that I've done with my mom (weaving baskets out of empty berry baskets)... others are things I can imagine doing with my own children someday (making a glowing lantern for summer nights out of an empty tin can) or even using as projects and gifts in a classroom (making new crayons out of old bits of crayon)!

It's not only the green projects that make this book so worthwhile, but there's actually a real story for each page and that makes it super cool! Ben wore his bulldozer T-shirt all week....

On Monday, he spilled chocolate milk down the front.
On Tuesday, it caught in his locker.
On Wednesday, a thread got stuck in his desk.
On Thursday, it ripped during soccer.
On Friday, he fell in a puddle three times.
By Saturday, it was all covered in dirt.
So Sunday, his mom took it out of the closet and gave him a tractor T-shirt.

What can you do with a raggedy T-shirt?

Another thing I really love about this book is that the materials used, are everyday objects that are simply being reused. Not only are the projects good for the environment, they're great as money-saving activities that will keep kids and your pockets pleased! This is definitely worth adding to your bookshelf (or coffee table for easy access)!

And, if you've already invested in this book, read ahead to my interview with Anna to see what else she may have in store for us!

As an artist, I can see how you may have become inspired to illustrate children's books. What inspired you to begin writing them as well?

I've always known that making children's books was my dream job. I began my career working in the design department of a children's book publisher after graduating from art school; I thought getting to know the inner workings of a publisher would be a great way to get to know the industry. My experience there was a great education, and just confirmed that publishing was business I wanted to be part of.

At that point I was confident in my ability to draw and make illustrations, but hadn't really considered writing professionally. I soon discovered as I began submitting my paintings to different publishers, that writing your own books is a faster way to get your foot in the door. So I suppose my initial inspiration to write came as a means to an end, as a way be able to be an illustrator. Once I began working seriously on my writing, though, I found it deeply satisfying and still do.

Teaching was immensely helpful on this journey. One of the things that moved me the most was the opportunity to witness first hand, day after day, what a big and important role in kid's lives books can play. I watched child after child tote a book around like it was their best friend. It was also a great inspiration to observe issues present in the classroom that reminded me of my own childhood, and sparked story ideas about my own experience. That is how Francine's Day began. I witnessed many kids having a hard time transitioning from home to school, and remembered my own struggles with that issue. That's when I started fleshing out Francine.

Of all the books you've written, do you have a favorite?

This will sound corny, but each is special in its own way. Some I am fond of because I remember everything I learned while I worked on the project, and some I feel proud of because the book represents a creative breakthrough of some kind. What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? is a really different kind of book for me, and was an absolute delight to make on so many levels. I have another book coming out this spring, Abigail Spells, that I am equally proud of that was also a pleasure to create. I think these two books are my strongest and most favorite to date.

What about the books you've illustrated?

Again, the books that really stand out to me are the ones where I grew a lot as an artist and storyteller. Priscilla and the Hollyhocks stretched me creatively in terms of subject matter and art style - I'd say right now this is the favorite of my illustrated books.

I absolutely love how you tied little limericks into the story, What Can You DoWith an Old Red Shoe?. This definitely made the book stand out to me, more so than any other earth-friendly craft book than I've seen before. I would think this would make for fun reading (even just as a story) for a child as well. Do you have plans for any other books about recycling or reuse on the horizon?

I am in the process of putting together a proposal for a sequel to Red Shoe, about craft activities for groups of kids that could be done at parties. Fingers crossed it will be published!

Recycling art supplies! What a neat way to get started! What other ways do you recycle materials at home?

I am a big recycling nerd at home! I put everything in the recycling bin from shampoo labels to shopping receipts. We also try to reuse plastic containers as many times as we can- take out containers become cat food dishes and storage, plastic bags are washed and reused many, many times. It pains me to throw them away.

In a house of five people, there are always dishes being broken and stashed away in the cupboard awaiting the superglue (which is never to be found)! So, what can you do with a broken dish?

I too have had many a broken dish I can't bear to throw away. Here is what I do: break the whole dish into small pieces (this is a great activity to do when you get a parking ticket or have been listening to too much news about the economy), and put them in the bottom of a plant pot instead of rocks to help the plant drain. If you are not a plant person, you could always bring home a bit of plaster and make a mosaic. Or if you have a garden, use them to line a flowerbed...

And now... for the giveaway...

Anna's publishers at Henry Holt have offered to give away three copies of her newest book, What Can You Do With an Old Red Shoe? to three lucky blog readers. If you want to be entered in this giveaway, leave a comment on the post. As part of your comment, share with me the ways that your family and children participate in recycling activities. Do you find ways to craft with them? Recycling centers? Thrift shops? What other ways do you have that you recycle/reuse? You have until 11:59 EST on Sunday, April 26 to enter. The drawing will be held on Monday, April 27!

If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to


style='clear: both;' MJ said...

I teach kindergarten. Almost all of our crafts are from from recycled items! I know my parents get tired of sending their trash in!!!


style='clear: both;' Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

Hello! We use junk mail (catalogs, mostly) to make collages, furnish paper doll houses, and make paper (in the blender!) and papier-mache. We're also working on ways to decrease the amount of paper we consume, although that's a bit harder. Thanks for holding the giveaway--I would love to win a copy of Alter'se book!

style='clear: both;' Infant Bibliophile said...

This sounds like such a fun book. We have given truckloads worth of items away to people who can use them through the "freecycle" network. I like to take images from junk mail and magazines and save them for collages too.

style='clear: both;' Llehn said...

My girl and I love to make little decorative things out of discarded materials around the house. With a little imagination, colorful magazines can make cool pencil holders / photoframes!

style='clear: both;' Andromeda Jazmon said...

This looks like a great book! We made bean bags out of cut up old tee shirts. Lots of fun to make and throw and very inexpensive.

style='clear: both;' Carey said...

I'm making a quilt out of my husband's old t-shirts.

style='clear: both;' Liz in Ink said...

Oh, this book looks just delicious! And I really love Anna's guest post, too, about why it's aimed at young kids. Have you all seen The Story of Stuff?
One of my daughter's teachers showed it in class and it was really transformative. My older daughter has learned to sew and has made pants out of an old sheet and a water bottle holder out of upholstery samples. My other daughter can create just about anything out of a box. I feel like I'm learning through them...

style='clear: both;' Jenny said...

I let me girls use all of our recycled items for crafts. Last week they made a cat house using a recycled box that they cut doors out of and inside hung foam beads they strung on string to hang in the entry way for the cats to bat at. I know they would love to win this book to come up with more creative ideas.

style='clear: both;' becky said...

we recycle by using reusable shopping bags. We also use lots of scrap paper.