April 12, 2016

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Poetry Friday: 5 Questions for Christy Hale

One of the best parts about working on an art and literary journal is stretching my limited knowledge of visual art. Little Patuxent Review, the journal I edit, is lucky to have a brilliant art critic, collector (and poet) as our art editor, Michael Salcman.

I often recommend fine-arts related picture books with Michael, knowing he'd like to share them with his  young grandchildren. My latest recommendation is Christy Hale's Dreaming Up. 
Go to Christy's website.
Hale deftly combines original concrete poetry with her illustrations of children engaged in building play. The book's WOW-factor is that each of these poem/illustration combos are paired with a photograph of a famous building.

Christy visited us in 2010 to talk about her picture book, The East West House. (Read the post here.)

Please welcome Christy Hale back to Author Amok!

AA: In your backflap bio for Dreaming Up, you mention being inspired by a visit to La Sagrada Familía, the unfinished cathedral in Spain. Tell us about that visit. How did you make the connection to children building sandcastles?

CH: In 1993 I joined others from the School of Visual Arts for a summer painting program in Barcelona. Each morning thirty students—adults of all ages from around the world—painted in the studios at Escola Massana. Afternoons and evenings we explored the capital of Catalonia. Our group toured many [Antoni] Gaudi buildings including La Sagrada Familia. I remember a sense of awe as I climbed the spiral staircases, surrounded by Gaudi's playful, joyous work. The fluid forms were the color of sand and unlike anything I'd seen, except well, maybe a sand castle.

Pages from Dreaming Up posted with permission.
Copyright Christy Hale. All rights reserved.

AA: What came first as you developed the concept for Dreaming Up:  the architectural structures, a list of child’s play that involves building, or the poems themselves?

CH: Often what I see reminds me of something else. I make lots of connections; I think in patterns. During the eighteen years I lived in New York City I frequented the museums on 5th Avenue. The Guggenheim's concentric circular forms had always looked like stacking rings to me. 

Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum houses modern art.
In a Modern Architecture art history class I took in grad school, I'd learned that Frank Lloyd Wright's mother had decided her son would be an architect before he was even born. She bought him wooden blocks and steered his course. Fallingwater seemed the perfect evolution of block play.

1) La Sagrada Familia/sand castles
2) NYC Guggenheim/stacking rings
3) Fallingwater/blocks

I had three ideas, and we all know that three's a charm. I was sure I could find other comparisons. There are many amazing structures around the world, but it was important to me in Dreaming Up that my choices could all be linked to children's building play. I made a list of ways children build and then looked for modern architecture with similar design and engineering. The concrete poems came last—another type of visual patterning. The first poem I wrote was the stacking cups one. I increased the syllable count with each line to mimic the graduating cups. Next I wrote the mud pie poem. I wanted to convey something about sustainable building, so I focused on the four elements.

AA:   The children in your illustrations are multi-ethnic, engaging in individual and cooperative play. The buildings featured are from all over the globe. Why was it important to you that the book have a global focus?

CH:  All children like to create spaces and places, yet traditionally white men have dominated the field of architecture. I wanted my readers to find themselves pictured in the diverse children engaged in building play and also to see architects of many races and both genders as a further inspiration. This book is an invitation for everyone to participate and celebrate building.

(Note from AA: In the back of Dreaming Up, you will find illustrated portraits and brief bios of each of the architects featured in the book.)

AA:      Let’s talk about concrete poetry. Kids are always excited when a poem has the extra dimension of a concrete shape, but it’s a challenge to make a concrete poem work both visually and lyrically. What did you like about working in concrete poems? What were some of the difficulties you faced?
The poems in Dreaming Up mirror both building play
and actual buildings like the Vitra Fire Station in Germany.

CH: My father was a mechanical engineer and an artist in countless ways. My mother read me poetry. I like the engineering of poetry. I'm interested in form. I like counting meter. I'm also a graphic designer and I enjoy playing with type. Concrete poetry seemed the perfect match for a building-themed book. My challenge was to make architectural concepts clear while keeping simple, fun language. I studied the buildings and architects in hopes of getting at the essence of what made each structure and person unique.

AA: One of my favorite spreads is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. The poem is beautifully written and visually pleasing.

You can visit Fallingwater, located in Western Pennsylvania.
These pages display the richness of Dreaming Up. The photograph of Fallingwater, your illustration of a child playing with blocks, the shape of the poem and the words themselves allow a child to experience Wright’s architecture on many levels. How were you able to create the layered quality of the book without overwhelming young readers?

CH: Thank you, Laura! Fallingwater is a stunning building. One look at those hanging terraces and it's easy to see how important Froebel blocks were in Wright's development. In Dreaming Up I hope to convey that children employ the same engineering and design thinking as architects. When they rig up a blanket fort, they demonstrate their grasp of suspension architecture. I wanted a strong visual link between the building play I illustrated and the architecture in the photos. I did all the photo research and acquired these images prior to beginning the art. I tried to echo the compositional lines, perspective, and colors of the photographs in my neighboring illustrations.

For each new illustration project I experiment to find my approach for the finished art. Dreaming Up was particularly challenging because I needed to balance three elements: illustrations, poems, and photographs. I didn't want my art to steal attention away from the photos. The concrete poems are really a second type of illustration. I wanted to offer variety in the typography, so there would be discovery in the forms of the poems, just like in the buildings. My editor suggested placing the illustrations and poems on light colored backgrounds that picked up on colors in the photographs. I had not originally imagined this approach, but this proved to be one way I could unify each spread.

In an earlier mock-up, I included building names and descriptions near the photos. My editor wisely suggested placing all the descriptions with the biographies in the end of the book. The main part of Dreaming Up invites readers to make connections. The back part of the book allows them to find out more about the buildings and the architects who created them. 

Thank you so much for your insights into the book, Christy!

Christy Hale is the author and illustrator of The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan, a Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year selection. She illustrated The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson (Fiewel and Friends, 2012) and Our School Garden! by Rick Swann (Readers to Eaters, 2012), plus several award-winning picture books, including Elizabeti’s Doll and its two sequels. 

Hale has taught art to all ages and has written about artists for Instructor magazine’s Masterpiece of the Month feature and workshops. Hale lives with her family in Palo Alto, California. Visit her online at

It's the last Poetry Friday before National Poetry Month! My 2013 project is "Welcome to the Technoverse." I have an exciting line up of guest bloggers stopping by in April. They will be talking about the ways in which poetry and technology intersect.

The super-talented Mary Lee Hahn is doing the blog-roll honors today. Stop by her blog, A Year of Reading, for links to more poetry posts.


Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

As someone who grew up with Tinkertoys, Legos, Lincoln Logs, and ten acres of woods outside, I always loved building things as a boy. This would've been my kind of book!

Linda B said...

Wow! Learning the "whys" of the art, the poetry, and the photographs was interesting and will cause me to view the pages more thoughtfully than I suspect I would have. I know that block building in our school in the primary rooms is an important part of their learning. I will share this with the teachers, knowing they will all want a copy of the book. Thank you Laura and Christy.

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

What a stunning book. So interesting to see the buildings next to the poems and artwork they inspired. Thanks for sharing the interview, too !

Christy said...

Thank you all! It was a fun project to Dream Up!

Buffy Silverman said...

Terrific interview...I love the pairings you shared, especially the falling water/blocks illustration. So imaginative!

Ruth said...

This looks like an amazing book. I love all the different connections. My kids have made sandcastles that looked just like Gaudi, too!

Heidi Mordhorst said...

I need 18 copies of this book for my kindergarten class, stat. We do lots of kinds of building and I have even written about some of it, but this book is above and beyond in so many ways--I can tell even without holding it in my hand.

Fantastic work, Christy, and fantastic interview.

Author Amok said...

Hi, everyone. My two children were (are) big fans of building toys. I could not believe, as a young mother, how much mileage we got out of those stacking cups Christy compares to the Guggenheim Museum's architecture. Then it was on to those giant cardboard building blocks (they also make good hamster mazes), and finally Legos. My son in particular would have loved this book as a little one.

Heidi, your class would love this book. The layering of language, illustration and photography -- of play, work and art -- is just astounding. The book is really an ode to creative constructions.

jama said...

What a fascinating book! I especially love the Falling Waters poem. Christy has taken concrete poetry to an entirely new level. Thanks for the wonderful interview.

Bridget Magee said...

Great interview, Laura! I love the story behind the story of "Dream Up". Wonderful book!

Edie Hemingway said...

This is a wonderful interview and a fascinating book! Thank you to both Christy and Laura for sharing.

Edie Hemingway said...

This is a wonderful interview and fascinating book! Thank you to both Christy and Laura for sharing.

Lois Szymanski said...

Very cool interview! :>) Lois

Joyce Ray said...

Thanks for highlighting this book. I loved reading about Christy's process and how the poems relate to the structures. "Sand Castle" is great.