Taking to the Ice

In the summer my front yard is a huge body of water, a playground for boats, swimmers and fishermen.

In the winter that water gets a hard shell of ice and becomes an entirely different playground, a brand new piece of “land” where we can walk, skate, and even drive snowmobiles and pickup trucks. Fishermen set up their shanties, forming cozy little villages.

As children we skated here with our mom and dog Lumpy.

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When I illustrated my 1st book in 1983 I remembered times spent skating with my dog.

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Cardinals in February from A Year of Birds by Ashley Wolff

During this Christmas break we got some lovely light snow and my sister and I set out to make this our new front yard.

We walked across the lake, following coyote tracks, and noticing where a bird landed, leaving wing and tail marks in the snow.

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We made snow angels ,

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built a buxom snow maiden,

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did donuts,

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drank cocktails,

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and lost our balance!

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Happy New Year.

Keep the wine handy.

We’re going to need it!

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The Importance of Ophelia

As a Picture Book Month Ambassador I was invited to write an essay explaining why picture books are important to me –and how they can change the lives of child readers.

I chose to talk about my favorite book from childhood

The Story of Ophelia by Mary Gibbons and Evaline Ness. The straightforward prose is long by today’s standards, but tells the story clearly. What I found most thrilling were the pictures of the one-eyed, ravening fox. Those really scared me, and seeing Ophelia survive his attack and prevail were very satisfying to good little  girl me.

Please enjoy my essay and tune in every day during PiBoMo this November to read the essays by the other ambassadors.

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Once upon a time I was a good little girl and picture books helped me express my inner, rather blood thirsty heroine.

Whenever I hear an editor or art director caution “ You can’t say/show this or that—that’ll give children the wrong idea. They’ll want to try it themselves,” my favorite childhood  book: The Story of Ophelia, by Mary Gibbons and illustrated by Evaline Ness, comes to mind.

As a child I identified completely with Ophelia: a skinny, rebellious little lamb, with six, fat, goody-two-shoes lamb siblings and a wise, tolerant sheep of a mother.

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When cautioned not to, Ophelia disobeys, enters the dark woods, is chased by the hungry fox, and with the help of the friends she made outside of the sheep paddock, escapes the fox. He is killed by a big bird right there on the page—a thing that never happens anymore in picture books. And surprise-she is not scolded for being naughty. Instead, she is rewarded with 4 new, red socks and a reputation as a fox killer!

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Adults devour thrillers and adventure stories, and, if I was typical, so do little children. I craved that large, heroic, adventurous life that was nothing like my own, and, at various ages, I found it in stories as varied as Blueberries for Sal, Puss in Boots, and The Little Red Lighthouse and the Big Gray Bridge.

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Picture books give young children a safe taste of other worlds: travel to distant lands, peeks into the past, or future, and the satisfaction being able to find their heroic self in a book. Through Ophelia, a human/animal character, or as I call her a ‘humanal,” I had a vicarious adventure that was far more exciting and life threatening than anything I’d ever experienced.

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Please comment and tell me the book that most influenced YOU as a child.

If you enjoyed this post, please  follow me here: Ashley Wolff Art on Facebook, my webpage , my Etsy shop, or Instagram. You can follow the blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top of the sidebar. 

Life with Dogs-Part 8: We Love Lucy

Every kid needs a pet.

I knew I was lucky to grow up with dogs and wanted the same for my boys. Lucy made our family complete.

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Even though I insisted we get a female dog so there’d be another b**** in our House of Boyz, Lucy had all the skills they admired.

She was good at messing around in boats,

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She had the patience to fish,fishingweb

She loved to snorkel,
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and most important, she had game.

She never tired of the game of catch-of trying to catch the baseball, and of chasing it down when it got away.

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Lucy was becoming an excellent new muse.

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Life With Dogs-Part 6: Creatures Between the Dog Years

In 1992, Pumpkin died from old age at my mom’s house in Vermont.

I entered the longest dog-less period of my life.

 

When my boys were little I didn’t want

one       more       single      solitary      thing

to care for. Not even a house plant.

 

Cut flowers were too much trouble.

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It was lucky that Pumpkin, as my alter ego, was far more energetic and willing to entertain.

In her world we were visited by frogs,

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Lobsters,

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sheep,
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chickens, and

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Beavers!

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My Life with Dogs-Part 1:Deep Background

I have always loved dogs.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one.

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When my sister was born, our family got our first German Shepherd. His name was Lumpy.

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A few years later we found a puppy on the street in Sarasota, Florida while visiting my grandmother. This picture ran in the newspaper to try to find the owner. No one claimed her so we kept her and named her Hushpuppy.

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She was a good sport.

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There is nothing like a bed full of dogs.

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My grandmother eventually adopted Hushpuppy back and Lumpy died. We got another German Shepherd named Thumper.

And then, in 1977, I got MY first dog. She was the last pup in a litter born on a dairy farm in East Middlebury, VT. Her mother Patsy was an expert cow herder.

I named her Pumpkin.

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The 1st summer I had her I drove all the way to California with my boyfriend. Thumper and Pumpkin came along. We all got to swim in the Pacific.

The story of what happened to Pumpkin is too long for one post. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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Homemade Christmas Stockings

When I was born my grandma made me a Christmas stocking.

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It was probably made from a kit-the elements may have been the same on ALL the stockings made for children that year, but mine has a little, pink angel, a lavishly decorated tree, a white house with a red roof, and a train, trailing tiny seed-bead smoke.

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I think emptying my stocking was my favorite part of Christmas morning. My sister and I always got candy and fruit. In this photo I can see walnuts, cumquats, tangerines, and maybe mini marshmallows.

Peri had her own  Grandma-made stocking but it had a few crucial differences and we spent HOURS comparing and contrasting the stockings. I still think mine is better.

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Later I began to ask for sour things: cocktail onions, lemons, pickles and homemade vinaigrette.

Hey, maybe there is something in there now…

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Uh-oh, those look too empty.

Let’s hope they fill up on Christmas Eve!

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Making my own Advent Calendar~Part 2

I grew up with “Sweet” paper Advent Calendars like this one

Advent Calendars 1The numbered openings are scattered all over, and the pictures outside bore no relation to what was underneath the perforated squares.

You got a lot of glitter outside, and dopey illustrations of stars, bells and candles inside the windows.

This annoyed me as a child. I already craved storytelling and wanted the outside and the inside to add up to something greater.

Nowadays, cool DIY Advent Calendars are all the rage. Many have candy and/or REAL gifts in them.

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But that is now. Back in 1986 I was thinking strictly 2-D, so I decided to make my own paper calendar. It was going to be fun to look at AND tell a story.

icicles_webI grew up in a cozy neighborhood in town, in a modern-looking, chalet style house designed by my parents. But my child alter-ego lived in a pale yellow farm house somewhere out in the country.

I needed at least 24 windows and doors on my imaginary house and barn in order to create the world within the calendar.

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I included characters from my three, published picture books:

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Nutkin, the marmalade cat from Only The Cat Saw

snowmanEllie, the little girl from A Year of Birds and A Year of Beasts, and her Border Collie Pumpkin

And later, I copied parts of my old calendar into books created far into the future like When Lucy Goes Out Walking!

JanuarytreeI wanted the picture you saw when you opened the door or window to make sense and tell a little bit more about this home and family.

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So when you open doors 1, 10 and 18, you see into the front hall, the kitchen and the back hall.

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The only window that did not fall within a real opening is in the woodpile.

adventcalendar_4but when you open it, the scene inside is still real to the location, even if the mice are enormous next to the cat!

Happy Advent!adventcalendar_6

Though this calendar is out of print, I still have a stash and am selling them here.

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