Illustrations for the New York Times

I've been illustrating a lot of stories lately for the New York Times column, "18 and Under." Pediatrician Dr. Perri Klass writes about a wide range of kid topics – from baby on up to college. Sometimes the topics are a bit challenging (how do you illustrate a story about kids and constipation?), but I admit that the editorial geek in me loves solving the puzzle. So here's a roundup:

This is the most recent one, for a story about how roommates can affect your college-aged child. I got to draw a strangely neat dorm room inside two gigantic heads. What could be better?


And this illustration was for a story about manners (or lack thereof) in the doctor's office. I put a baby doll in it, which I think is pretty trite for an illustration on kids, but it's okay because I pulled it's head off.


Best title ever – "To Smoosh Peas is to Learn." This story is about how babies learn by touching, smearing and feeling their food.


Traveling with kids to exotic places. What could go wrong?


This story is about how to handle shyness with kids. I can totally relate. As a kid I felt painfully shy, and I see the same tendency in my daughter. But my son – not a shy bone in his body. I think he's the kid in front.


 And back to older kids, this story was about getting your kids ready to take care of their health needs as they head off to college. Yep, we'll be there in just a few years when our oldest graduates high school.


Okay, here it is – constipation and kids. Sometimes, you just have to keep drawing, and drawing, and drawing until you figure it out.




Snow Fort!

I think it's safe to say that every parent in the Baltimore area is collectively tired of snow, right? It feels like ages since any of my kids went to a full week of school and although the driveways and roads are fairly clear now, I don't think we will be seeing the grass any time soon.

In the plus column, this is amazing packing snow. Everytime I check my Facebook feed it seems to be full of creative snow sculptures (Apparently I have rather creative Facebook friends). 

I can take no credit for the snowfort that appeared in our front yard. It kept Dave and the kids (mostly Jacob) busy for hours. They packed snow into plastic bins to form the blocks. 


The roof proved to be a little challenging, but it's rather sturdy for now. 


And don't forget furniture. They added a chair, table and even a bed that has a little snow pillow. 


These two have moved in. I'll miss them, but hopefully they will visit soon.

Making Soap, sort of...


"Making soap" isn't really accurate for this project, but "melting and reforming soap" just isn't a catchy title. So here we go.

These soaps made great holiday gifts this year. They were incredibly easy to make, not expensive, and definitely not messy. Afterall, how hard is it to clean up soap?

The variations on this could be endless, so experiment and have fun.

You will need:

Higher temperature glycerin soap base
Lower temperature white soap base
Scented oil
Soap molds and/or empty cardboard juice cartons with the top cut off
Soap cutter or sharp kitchen knife
Glass measuring cup

1. Start by making the colored cubes. Microwave higher temperature glycerin soap on high, in a glass measuring cup. Microwave until it becomes liquid. Soap melts really quickly, so keep constant watch on it.

2. Add colorant and stir. We used a liquid colorant. Feel free to mix the colors as you like. I'll take any excuse to work in a little lesson on color theory.

3. Add scented oil and stir.

4. Pour into soap molds or carton. Let cool for 30 minutes or until set.


5. Remove soap from mold or carton and chop into 1/2 inch cubes. Cutting the soap is extremely rewarding. I had to fight for a turn. Afterwards I handed the soap cutter back to the kids. They were able to manage just fine, but you may need to supervise.


6. Melt lower temperature white soap. You could add more scent or colorant here too.

7. Now combine the cubes with the soap base. Drop glycerin cubes into carton while at the same time pouring in the white soap until the cubes are just barely covered. It helps to have two people working on this at the same time. Let set until firm. Peel away carton and cut into bars. All done!


Calder’s Circus

Alexander Calder, the famous American sculptor, created a tiny circus, complete with lions, sword swallowers and acrobats from 1926-31. The tiny performers were sculpted out of fabric, wire and other materials. They danced, and spun, and jumped from trapeze to trapeze as Calder moved them around the stage. Calder performed The Circus for decades and it traveled back and forth from Paris to the United States. The circus and performers are now housed in the Whitney Museum, having been carefully restored and preserved.

I imagine that over the years, the performances evolved quite a bit. At the time of the restoration, there were signs of wear and tear. Patches, upon patches. So I like to think that even if the original performers stayed basically the same, the performance grew and shifted, as things do.

Fortunately, a few videos of Calder performing his circus exist, of the later years.

I love watching him perform. In some versions you can see his wife in the background, putting up with her husband's obsession. I feel her pain. But really, Calder is amazing.

Sooo.... a recent assignment, for my grad students, was to create a performer for Calder's Circus. Any type of creature was up for grabs. They were giving a short list of materials (fabric, string, wire, feathers, paper, etc) and a tight deadline (I love a tight deadline). Here is what they came up with.

My students came up with some pretty awesome solutions, but I think this could be a great project for kids too. Limit the materials, give a few easy ideas for how to apply movement, and let them go wild...

Catching Up

I feel like I've been so immersed in kid-related projects lately, that I've completely neglected mentioning some of them here. I'm going to take a moment to catch up and tell you all what I've been up to.

Every semester, for the last 4 years, I've taught at class at Maryland Institute College of Art. I love my day each week at MICA. My students amaze me. I admit I teach there for some purely selfish reasons. I learn so much from my students, although I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be the other way around.

This semester, I decided to teach something different – a class on Markets for Children for the graduate Illustration Practice program. I'm going to post just a few of the things that have been happening with the class.


Also, on the horizon are some fun projects at the studio that I hope I can share in more detail soon. A new app is coming and a new publishing project that I can't wait to share!




Mummies of the World


I stopped by the Maryland Science Center this morning to preview their new exhibition, Mummies of the World. My younger daughter is mummy-obsessed, which might be a little unique for an 8 year-old girl. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the source of the attraction – history, science, the general creep-factor? In any case, this show is a must-see for our whole family.

By the way, I put the nice Egyptian art at the top of this post. If you don't want to see what the mummies look like, don't scroll down. 


On the other hand, I do think some kids might be frightened by this show. Almost all of the 40+ mummies on display are not wrapped. You can see details that are amazingly well-preserved. Fingers, toes, a tattoo, and even eyelashes. And these are very real people. They are presented respectfully, but very up-close and at times it feels a little intimate. There are stories to accompany the mummies, like the Orlovits family – Michael, Veronica and their son Johannes. They were part of a group of mummies found in a long forgotten crypt in Vac, Hungary, complete with name cards. I met with “mummyologist” Heather Gill-Frerking, a biological anthropologist and she describes the mummies as “adorable,” as does my sweet Emma, so maybe it is all in the eye of the beholder. I like Dr. Gill-Frerking’s take on bringing kids. “People know their kids. They know what they like.” She adds, “I can’t tell you how many nose prints we clean off the glasses.”


There is a lot to learn here. How are mummies made? How did these people live? What diseases did they have? What can we learn from their DNA? So many things.

My big lesson? How bog bodies are made. Emma is fascinated by bog bodies and Dr. Gill-Frerking is an expert. According to Dr. Gill-Frerking, bogs are very good for preserving skin, and fur, and fabric, but terrible for bones. More water actually preserves the bodies better. Bogs are acidic so they leach the minerals from the bone. The bone gets very soft and can be squished flat by the weight of the overlying peat. See, you learn something new every day.

The show opens to the public September 28, 2013 and runs until January 20, 2014.

Running on the NCR Trail

I am not a runner. But this summer, one of my favorite places to be was the NCR trail. And somehow (actually I know exactly how) I ended up spending a fair amount of time running on the trail. 


The Northern Central Railroad Trail extends 20 miles from Ashland Road in Hunt Valley to the Pennsylvania state line. It then continues in Pennsylvania as the York County Heritage Trail. It is up to 10 feet wide and passes through some absolutely beautiful Maryland landscape. A lot of it runs along the Gunpowder River, through shady forest. You might pass people on innertubes, or bikes, or even horses. Whatever works.


My daughter started Cross Country this year. Yep. We've hit high school, and suddenly so much has shifted. We have limited places to run nearby, and I wanted to make her summer practice not quite so boring. Personally, I can kind of embrace the boredom of running. I like that mindless time to not be anywhere. To turn off. But isn't it always nicer with amazing scenery? Yes.


So the trail became part of our morning routine. I took all of the kids at first, and then, as the distances grew, just her. She ran up ahead, but I was never far away. So if she ran 3 miles, I could sneak by with 2 and really be just a half mile away at any given point, right? But the miles grew, and soon I was at 4 (with her at 5). And then she went away to camp. I didn't see her for 2 weeks. You know what happened? I ran anyway. I ran in the rain. And it was amazing.

She came home. Cross country practice started and it meant that she would be running with the team instead of me. Last Saturday I ran 5 miles, which may not be that far, but it's a personal best for me. It was cool and beautiful and perfect, and I think I just might keep running.

So Grown Up

How fast they grow. Roughly nine weeks old and they are more chicken than chick now. They still haven't traded their sweet little peeps for grown-up chicken sounds, and the combs on the Barred Rocks are only just now starting to grow, but in every other way, they look like mini-versions of their soon-to-be adult selves.

Our white hen, named Duck, has become a favorite. Although it might just be because we can't tell the other two, Helen and Carol, apart from each other. 


I've had to clip their wings, because they have flown the coop more than a few times. It's helped, but they still manage to escape periodically. I'm hoping as they get bigger, they won't be able to make the height of the fence. Bad chicken. 


They are so fun to watch. I love how they tip their beaks up when they drink.


There is something so dinosaur about them. 


Pretty duck. She's our Easter Egger and I'm really hoping for blue eggs.


The older hens have finally accepted that they have new coop-mates. I can't say that they've been very welcoming, but they tolerate the newcomers well enough.


Molassy is still the kids' favorite. With that little bunny tail, I completely understand.


Egg production has not been as good as I had hoped. I never expected the Silkie to lay much, but actually she's done alright. She lays these tiny little eggs, on a fairly regular basis. 

I will admit I've done a few things wrong. The biggest mistake was letting my hens stay broody. We've learned a lot about chickens this year. Hens lay an egg most days. After they have layed a bunch (a clutch) of eggs, they may "go broody," meaning they decide to sit on them for 3 weeks until the eggs hatch. They will only get off the nest once or twice a day. They fluff up really big if you try to move them. They might peck and growl if you try to pick them up and most annoyingly they don't lay any eggs. A few weeks after the chicks hatch, they go back to normal. Broodiness happens whether or not there is a rooster. And it happens with some breeds more than others. In our case, we don't have a rooster, so the eggs were not fertilized. We kept removing the eggs (despite the pecks), but even if there were no eggs, and no hope of chicks, the chickens would sit. 


So first Lily went broody. As soon as she was done, Hazel went broody. Weeks went by and Hazel didn't seem to be getting back to normal. She sat, she growled, she sat some more. I would take her off the nest to make sure she got some food. She would eat a little and go right back on the nest. 

To make matters worse, Molassy went broody too, always trying to be like the big hens. As I looked at Hazel, I noticed that her comb was getting pale, a sign that she was getting weak. It was time to do something.

There are a number of ways to break a broody hen, but the main goal is to cool their body temperature down a little. I started slipping freezer packs into their nesting boxes covered by a few pine shavings. We gave them cool baths in the wheelbarrow daily (I admit that was a little fun). And we closed off the nesting boxes for parts of the day to force them out in the yard.

After three days, they were coming out of it. Hazel's comb went back to its normal floppy bright red.


Next chicken crisis? It's molting time. Our yard looks like there was a huge pillow fight, or maybe more like a chicken exploded, but that's okay. They will be back to normal soon and we will have more eggs than we can handle, right Ladies?


Earth Treks


Hey, come down from there...

They never listen.

We went to Earth Treks for a birthday party. I think I have been to about a million-bagillion birthday parties, but this place is a bit different beacause it's a good challenge for a wide range of ages. My 8-year-olds got to join in the fun, even though this was a 14-year-old party. It took a little coaxing, but halfway through the party, my little ones made it to the top. The staff knew just how much to push. And my kids were so, so, proud of themselves for making it all the way.


Look at her go! She didn't make it very far the first couple of times. Then she took a break and sat with me for a while. I could tell she was getting her nerve up. Then boom, all the way to the top.

Funny to see how different their processes are. My little guy was determined. He got back in line and climbed again and again and again until he made it. A tiny bit farther each time and at last, sweet success.


Meanwhile, the older kids, who were able to climb up to the top right away, found different challenges. Some of the climbing paths were a bit more difficult. So if you thought you were going to climb 90 degrees straight up, think again. They had to figure out ways to climb walls that tilted out. Not easy.

All I can say is, thank goodness for safety harnesses. Kids, go have fun.


Earth Treks

1930 Greenspring Drive

Timonium, MD 21093


Map it


Picking Berries at Hybridoma Organic Fruit Farm


This morning was cool and crisp and we were feeling pretty lucky as we marched off to pick blueberries. Hybridoma Farm opened its doors to the public for berry picking in 2011. This morning, the owner and farmer, Robert, greeted us at the berry stand, pointed us to the blueberries and handed us all buckets. As he sent us off, he apologized for the weeds around the bushes, but this is a certified organic farm and I take the occasional weed as evidence that this farm is the real deal. By the way, there aren't a lot of weeds. It's really nicely weeded and mowed, so we got right to work.


Our main focus today was blueberries, but there are other berries here too. Black raspberries were available in smaller quantities, and red raspberries will be coming soon. There were even some yellow raspberries and gooseberries coming later in the season.


My kids are completely up for the task of filling all of our buckets. But we stopped after about 10 pounds. Of course, I had to promise them a return trip. I don't think that will be a problem.


Now, what do we do with all these blueberries? First on the list was to eat a big bowl, plain. Then the kids made a really good cobbler that we spooned over ice cream. The remainders will be eaten tomorrow, or frozen for the winter. Maybe we can fill the entire freezer and have cobbler all year long. I'm for it. Kids, get back in the car. 

[Map it]

Hybridoma Organic Fruit Farm

13734 Baldwin Mill Rd

Baldwin, MD 


Summer, Summer, Summer!

The beginning of summer is always such a good time to plan. Not big things, just other things. Things that always seem to slip by. Spring is fading (as usual, too quickly). I am impressed, though with our bumper crop of peas. I almost let them get ahead of me.


This year, my daughter has been obsessed with birds. Her current plan is to study ornithology at Cornell. Yes, Cornell, and yes, we are saving. Maybe a scholarship will work out, right? But in the meantime, her obsession has made her, and by default me, super-aware of some of the nests that are appearing around our property. Of course, there have been many nests over the nine years we have lived here, but I have been aware of exactly none of them. Now there are three that we are/were watching: the mourning dove nest in the honeysuckle, the house wren in the birdhouse and...


there is a carolina wren nest in the pine shavings bag on our deck. I need those pine shavings for the chicken coop, but it's not going to happen. Pretty speckled eggs have claimed the bag, so I will have to wait, and maybe even buy another bag for the chicken coop.

Now onto summer plans. I've lined up the regular camps and classes for the kids, and a few new things to try. But here are my "others." 

1. Visit Fort McHenry. I'm embarrassed that I never have, even though I have lived in and around Baltimore for the last 24 years.

2. Buy a new violin for my daughter. She has moved beyond her current violin, not in size, but in quality, which kind of makes me sad. Buying a new violin apparently requires a trip to Bethesda to the best violin shop around. While we are there, there must be something else to do or see in Bethesda, but what? Suggestions?

3. Spend more time in our very own backyard. Our property backs up to a small stream. Last weekend we walked down to the stream with our neighbors and I felt like I was walking through a tropical rainforest. So lush and beautiful. We really are fortunate to have this place and yet I rarely go down to the water. I always have an excuse. Something glamorous like "too much laundry to fold," or "I'm working." Both of these are universally true, but I need to make some time.

4. Make art with the kids. You would think that would be a daily event around here, right? My friend Jen Cooper, over at Classic Play is teaming up with  Lulu the BakerAlexandra Hedin and MJ from Pars Caeli to post crafts, games and party ideas all summer long. I will be checking in. I promise.

5. Plant as much as I weed. I spend a huge amount of time every spring weeding. It's a pointless activity and I'm not quite sure why I bother. If I don't plant anything in that spot, weeds will be back in the blink of an eye. I'm only stalling nature. My new plan is to crowd out the bad with the good. Now I have the perfect excuse for more trips to my favorite nursery

6. Eat more tuna tartare. We order it at the nearby sushi restaurant whenever we go there and it probably takes all of 5 minutes to throw together. Why have I never done this at home?

So that's my rather small summer list. I am a firm believer that you can overplan summer and no one wants to do that.

I'd love to hear what's on your summer list!



It's chick time again! We decided to add to our tiny flock. We lost one chicken over the winter (RIP Sassy), and our other three hens weren't quite keeping up with the demand for eggs. I never used to buy more than a dozen eggs per week, but our home-grown eggs taste so much better than store-bought ones that my kids are constantly wanting more. 

The good news is that according to Mother Earth News, eggs from hens that are allowed to free range are also more nutritious. They can have less cholesterol, less saturated fat, more vitamin A, more omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamin E, and more beta carotene. Our hens are free to roam around a fenced yard all day. We feed them organic chicken feed, and kitchen scraps, and even toss them the occasional stink bug or grub for them to gobble up. There are a few chores that come with the territory. The kids check for eggs, and help clean the coop and give them food and water. They also scoop the chickens up and hold in their laps while they swing, although not Hazel. She tends to peck. 

So here we go again. The kids are in love and trying to resist the urge to name them too quickly. I'm cleaning the water dish 20 times a day, but really, other than that, the chicks are no trouble at all. I love watching how these little fluffballs fit into our messy lives. But come this fall, I'll expect some eggs, little ladies.

Gunpowder River Artfest


WHAT: Art and Crafts Festival + Wine

WHERE: Boordy Vineyards

WHEN: June 1, 2013

This is our 4th year with the Gunpowder River Artfest and we couldn't be more excited to spend the day at this event. In addition to over 60 fine art and craft vendors, there will be live music by Nelly's Echo (featured on Season 3 of The Voice) and Midlife Crisis. Wine tastings are included in the adult admission fee. I personally am a little too excited about some of the new food vendors: Flavor Cupcakery (winner of Season 4 Cupcake Wars) and Prigel Creamery.

This is also a kid-friendly event, with children's activities and hula hooping lessons. For more details visit Hope to see you there!

Patapsco State Park

We want Spring. We want it now. So today we headed out to Patapsco State Park on a mission. We wanted to find a place to go camping later in the season (they have tent sites and cabins), but more importantly, we wanted Spring. Admittedly, we are pushing things a bit. There is barely any green to be found. But still, it's in the air. 


As we started to explore the trails, we discovered some amazingly steep hills. This trip is not for the stroller set, but my kids are officially big kids now. The twins (age 8 now) are totally up for the challenge. We slowly edged down to the river.


Brilliant move, if I do say so myself. We stopped on the way there for some fried chicken and corn on the cob. 


When did she get so tall?


After much playing, and exploring the railroad tracks, and maybe a little more playing it was back up again. 


 Of course we had to vere off the trail a bit to see a tiny waterfall.


And one more shot, just to prove I was there too. Me and my gorgeous kids.

Patapsco Valley State Park

8020 Baltimore National Pike

Ellicott City MD 21043

[Map it]

Main Office: 410-461-5005

Reservations: 1-888-432-2267

Just Released – New Version of PrestoBingo Shapes!

We've just released a brand new version of PrestoBingo Shapes, our iPhone and iPad app that teaches basic shapes and counting to kids. I'm particularly excited about this version, because it includes 4 new animated and illustrated shape puzzles. It also has a new swipe feature so you can move between puzzles more easily.

Making this app has been a great project to work on, but it's a big app store, and small developers like us have to work hard to get found. We greatly appreciate tweets, ratings or reviews on the app store. And good old-fashioned word of mouth? Best. Ever.



Children’s Book Illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky


Paul Zelinsky just sent me a copy of one of his children's books. Actually, it was his first-ever picture book, and was published in 1981. He has since gone on to have an amazing children's book career, and I'm thrilled to take a look back to where it started. The inscription reads in my book reads "To Joyce, for the oddest reason — happily, Paul O. Zelinsky. Isn't your curiosity piqued? 


The Maid and the Mouse and the Odd-shaped House, was adapted from an old rhyming story that Dorothy Brooks found in her mother, Henriette Holzer's notebook. Henriette Holzer was a schoolteacher, and as this story was told, each child would go up to the chalkboard and complete a different part of a picture. I won't tell you anymore, so you can enjoy the surprise.


Zelinsky's illustrations have a wonderful vintage feel, and although the story is an old one, dating back to before 1897, the concept is still so current.

Paul O. Zelinsky was awarded the Caldecott medal in 1998 for Rapunzel. Some of his other more well-known books include:  The Wheels on the BusRumpelstiltskinSwamp Angel and his latest Z Is for Moose.

For updates on Paul's latest projects, follow him on twitter @paulozelinsky.

Thank you for the lovely book, Paul!

Recycled Magazine Christmas Trees

We've been folding Christmas trees from old magazines. These are so much fun to make. Dave remembers making these as a kid from old TV Guides. You can spray paint them green, or gold, but I think they are rather nice plain. Little flecks of color show through, and since this one is made from last year's seed catalog, it's especially good. Little bits of spring, poking through the winter.


Crisp folds are important for this project, but some of us had a slightly approach. 


Grab a thick magazine, 200 pages or so and let's get started! 

First take a moment to break the spine, so the magazine lays flat. You may also want to remove the cover if the paper is thicker than the rest of the magazine.

1. Fold the top left corner into the spine of the magazine to make a diagonal fold. Crease neatly.

2. Fold in again to the spine. The shape it makes will look sort of like a neck tie.

3. Turn the magazine over and fold the bottom triangle up. Remember the tree will have a flat base and this is the fold that levels the bottom.

4. Tuck the triangle inside the fold.


I prefer to do folds 1 and 2 for the entire magazine, and then turn the magazine over to do the remaining folds. Pretty soon you'll have a table full of recycled (and recyclable) holiday trees.

Happy folding!

Gallery Success!

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the Spur Gallery for the BARCS show, Cats & Dogs & Dogs & Cats. If you didn't get a chance to come by, the show will be up through December 7th. Gallery hours are 9:30-5:00 M-F.


One special part of the show was the kids' project, a set of 8 notecards available for purchase. 100% of the sales price goes to support BARCS.

They were a big hit at the show, and we still have a some left if you didn't snag some there. Special thanks to our kid artists, Celia, Emma, Holland, Jacob, Lindsay, Madison, and Megan. Here is a link to purchase them for $12.00 (plus $2.50 for shipping and handling).


Another special part of the show was this guy, Ringo Starr. He's coming home with us.


He looks pretty wiped out in this shot, but it's the only one I have. He's 4 months old, and is part-cat/part-ragdoll. I think he will fit in just fine around here.

Cats & Dogs & Dogs & Cats

WHAT: Art Gallery Opening and Adoption Event

WHERE: Spur Gallery, 3504 Ash Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

WHEN: November 9, 2012 6:30-8:30 pm


Ever since we adopted Reggie, I've had a soft-spot for BARCS. If you aren't familiar with this organization BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter) is a non-profit shelter that was created in 2005 to take over operations of the Baltimore City Shelter previously operated by the city’s Bureau of Animal Control.

We're having an art show at the Spur Gallery, to help support the shelter. The Baltimore arts community has jumped in to show their support too and we have a great line-up of Baltimore illustrators and photographers who will have their work on display:

Rebecca BradleyJulianna BrionKali CiesemierAlain CorbelAlain CorbelAlain CorbelSusan DetwilerAnn Feild DidykJimmy GiegerichGilah PressChris HartloveJoyce HesselberthGreg HoustonTracy JacobsAndrea KalfasWarren LinnJanna MortonMichael NorthrupJoe Parisi,Dave PlunkertScott RobertsWhitney ShermanKatie SmithPaige VickersChip Wass

We hope you will join us at the opening. It will be a kid-friendly event. Volunteers from BARCS will be on hand to introduce you to some of their wonderful cats and dogs, and answer any questions. 50% of all proceeds will go directly to BARCS.