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by Salina Yoon & Christopher Polentz

People often ask me if my characters come first, or the story. Which inspires the other? Each book is different, but it’s an interesting question, and fun to reflect on. In my case, envisioning a character helps me to tell his or her story with authenticity. But they are often not fully fleshed out until my story is complete. My husband, however, fleshes his characters out with extravagant detail before the story is ever conceived.

I’d like to introduce you to my husband, artist Christopher Polentz, an aspiring writer and illustrator. He paints portraits with stunning realism inspired by actual vintage photographs he finds at antique shops. These portraits inspire stories!

I never simply copy the photograph. Over the hours of painting we spend together, developing a tangible painting, a thought process is at work. Beyond this picture; who is this person? Who were their friends? What was their position in life? Jotting down notes, organizing thoughts in my head, a real person emerges from this simple inspiration found in an antique store for $3.00.

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My mental notes encourage more imagery, a background environment, she should appear emaciated-why? She’s wearing a necklace, what should be hanging from that necklace I ask myself. And so the conversation goes. And from this single photograph an imagined world of complexity evolves. None of which was planned, yet happened, spontaneously. Over the years I have found my paintings feeling incomplete in some way. My viewers had questions. A natural human curiosity wanted answers. I found myself retelling, and embellishing on my own original thoughts. And listening to my audience-they have some of the most compelling thoughts about my characters, and I take it-it’s great! Then, tying one character to another, it all slowly came together and made sense. They all belonged together, as they all came from me. I realized the need to put these stories, previously confined to my mind, on paper.

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My portrait has not inspired just one idea, but several, because they are all inner-connected like a family tree. I now have a story of pictures supported by the movie of my mind that is always different and ever changing-one photograph, object, or maybe a past experience all play a role. So this is what I do. I shop, hunt, and think, never knowing where or what that next thing is adding to another piece of my puzzle, a new chapter in MY Twilight Zone.

My finished portraits are not finished at all. It’s just the beginning. A character is born with a story to tell, and we, the creator, are the ones to tell it.

Try this.

Go to an antique or thrift store. Scan through photographs of real life people or things people have owned. There are games, tools, dishes, toys, jewelry, and all kinds of unexpected treasures! Each one has a story to tell, and only you can tell it because it’s from your own imagination. Let an object or photograph trigger a story. Don’t simply interpret it. Make it your own! Elaborate and invent. Even inanimate objects can come to life if you’re using your imagination. What is their story?

Have fun browsing and imagining. Find something ordinary and make it extraordinary!

Pictured: Portraits by Christopher Polentz that have inspired stories. Feel free to let them trigger stories of your own!

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chris1Christopher Polentz graduated with honors from Art Center College of Design in 1985 earning his BFA degree. After a long career as a freelance artist working with clients such as; Atlantic Records, MGM/UA Entertainment, Mattel Toys and Reebok, Chris returned to college earning his MA degree from Syracuse University in 2001. Chris now pursues gallery work and has exhibited with galleries including; CoproNason Gallery-Santa Monica, La Luz de Jesus Gallery-Culver City, Sparks Gallery- San Diego and Cannon Gallery-Carlsbad. He continues to teach, and likes to think of himself as more technician than artist, working traditionally in his preferred medium of graphite and acrylic. Chris has been teaching art for over thirty years, including twenty years at both Art Center College of Design and Palomar Community College.

You can learn more about Christopher Polentz and his art at christopherpolentz.com.

salinayoonmedSalina Yoon is an award winning author and illustrator of over 160 books for young children, including the popular Penguin picture book series and the new Duck Duck Porcupine beginning reader series. She was the featured author for the 2016 Kohl’s Cares Summer Campaign, and her awards include the 2015 Award for Excellence in a Picture Book for FOUND, by the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California, the 2015 International Literacy Association’s Children’s Choice Reading List for FOUND, and much more.

You can learn more about Salina Yoon and her books at salinayoon.com or follow Salina on Twitter at @salinayoon.

Chris and Salina have two boys, one more artistically inclined than the other (but they won’t name names) and they share one agent, Jamie Weiss Chilton, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

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Christopher is giving away a print of one of his portraits (that you can use to inspire a new character).

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

Releasing on January 5, 2016 is Salina Yoon’s 158th book, BE A FRIEND. (Yes, it really is her 158th book. Salina is the most prolific author-illustrator on the planet!)

The delightful cover is being revealed by Bloomsbury exclusively here today!

Isn’t it sweet?

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Salina, I know with my books the cover has come at the end of the book-making process…but I recently spoke with Matthew Cordell and his latest book’s cover idea came to him early on. When did you create this cover and what about the story did you want to convey through the images?

The cover was the first thing I designed and illustrated when I conceived of the idea to prepare it for submission. But since then, the cover’s changed a few times, even its title, and only recently was everything finalized. The book itself was completed much earlier.

Conveying the story with just one image and one title is so challenging with any book. In BE A FRIEND, it was important to show the two main characters having a deep connection to one another. It’s a unique kind of friendship because one child is silent, and he lives in a world of his own imagination. But here, we see the girl looking straight into his eyes, accepting the gift he dreamed up in his mind. She accepts him, just the way he is, and that’s a strong theme in the book. Like a mother who blows a kiss across a room and the child snatching it up, even gifts of the imagination are felt if the heart is in them.

Could you tell us a little more about the book?

BE A FRIEND is about a boy named Dennis who expresses himself through the silent art of mime, which alienates him from the other kids. No one seems to notice him, except one girl. Her name is Joy. Even without words, they can laugh and play. And most importantly, they can be friends. Joy shows Dennis that he can still be himself while including others—that his world needn’t be solitary.

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This book is for any child (or adult) who has ever felt different that made them feel alone, and the importance of reaching out and making connections.

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BE A FRIEND is a heartwarming celebration of individuality, imagination, and the power of friendship. (Bloomsbury/January 2016)

Salina is giving away three signed, framed art prints from BE A FRIEND just for visiting her cover reveal today.

Leave a comment below; one comment per person, please. Three random winners will  be drawn on May 18th. Good luck!

It’s finally May—the flowers are pushing through the dirt, the sun is ablaze with warm promises…and, well, it’s time to take a break!

I thought I’d consult with someone who knows vacationing very well. No, not my Aunt Myrna, the Long Island travel agent queen. Salina Yoon’s Penguin!

He’s a cute, chubby fellow with an itch for adventure. Let’s scratch it, shall we?

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Penguin, thanks so much for joining me today. Tell me, what’s been happening at home that you decided a vacation was in order?

Hi Ms. Tara! I was just bored of the snow and ice. I can only count to 99, and after I counted my 99th snowball, I didn’t know what else to do.

You could make 33 miniature snowmen, but ya know, I like the vacation idea better.

What did Grandpa say when you packed your bag?

33 miniature snowmen…I never thought of that!

Grandpa always says to me that I should go and explore the world—and I will come back a wiser penguin. I think he is right. Grandpa is very wise, and he has traveled very far. In fact, he has been to the beach once long ago. He gave me his old swim suit for my trip. It fit perfectly.

I hope you sent him a postcard. He probably missed you very much.

I did better than that, Ms. Tara! I met a lovely seagull on the beach, and she had a camera. It went, “click! click! click!” and pretty pictures came out of a box. She took some photos of me and Crab, and Seagull delivered the photos to Grandpa because she can fly! It was very nice of Seagull. It turns out that we are distant relatives!

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Speaking of Crab, you did some fun things together. What other places did you two visit on your vacation?

Crab took me caving, snorkeling, and even cliff diving on the island! I am a very good swimmer, so it was very fun. But the caves were nothing like the ice caves back at home. It was fun to see and try new things.

What advice do you have for kids heading away on vacation to someplace new and different?

My advice is to make new friends on vacation, because they will know how to have fun there even if you don’t! Also, I would say to be open to trying new things because you can do what you always do and eat the foods you always eat when you get back home. And take sunscreen…if you are going someplace sunny!

Where would you like to vacation next?

I would love to visit the Grand Canyon one day, even though I would have to pack a lot of ice with me to stay comfortable. I would also like to visit Mount Everest and see the world from the highest point on Earth! And then of course, Disneyland!

That sounds perfect. I can hear the television announcer booming, “Penguin, you just had your book published, what are you going to do next?!”

Thanks for waddling by today, Penguin. And thanks for leaving behind your adorable book signed by Salina, plus a beach ball to boot! Or throw. Or float in the pool with. Whatever the winner prefers!

Thank you for inviting me to talk with you, Ms. Tara. And happy vacationing, friends!

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salinabeachPlease leave a comment below telling Penguin about your favorite vacation spot.

A winner of the book and ball will be randomly selected in one week!

Good luck!

Thanks to everyone who visited Salina Yoon’s post about her newest and most challenging novelty book, KALEIDOSCOPE. The winner of the signed copy is:

DONNA SHEPHERD!

Congratulations, Donna! Be on the lookout for an email from me…

Didn’t win? No worries. There’s more giveaways coming in the next two weeks. Yes, it’s a busy Spring over here! Here’s a sneaky peekie (what my five-year-old calls it):

Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino’s BOY + BOT

Sarah Frances Hardy’s PUZZLED BY PINK

Carolyn Crimi and Stephanie Buscema’s PUGS IN A BUG

Ammi-Joan Paquette & Marie Letourneau’s THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS

It’s a Picture Book Palooza!

Plus, don’t forget, if you’re not already subscribed to my blog via email, join today to be entered into a SEPARATE “new follower” three-picture-book-prize-pack giveaway on April 1st (EXTRA YARN, BOY + BOT, ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT). I’m not foolin’! Just enter your email address in the left column.

by Salina Yoon

Toys, toys, toys! I love toys! They are often the inspiration to my novelty books—board books with interactive features. They are designed to be touched, pulled, squeezed and played with, so my books and toys are like cousins.

Colored stacking rings, the Connect Four game, wooden puzzles, rubber duckies, and even a football has inspired a book idea! And sometimes, it’s not even a toy at all. Random objects will inspire me. My husband’s toolbox, kitchen utensils, scrap fabric, a greeting card, and even a funny jack-o-lantern on Halloween! I can’t get away from ideas creeping into my head because I’m surrounded by objects. Needless to say, I develop a ton of ideas every year. About a dozen are usually good enough to publish. And the others crawl back into my deep, dark dummy closet of doom. (See photo!)

My books are concept- and format-driven, so I’m not looking for story ideas. I look for fun concepts that allow a child to interact in a meaningful way from the physical design of the book. Rock & Roll COLORS is an excellent example. The book has a hidden track within each narrow page that allow a shiny disk to roll back and forth when the book is tilted. It makes a nice, satisfying clunking sound when the disk hits the edge. Each side of the page has an image with die-cuts, so the foil comes shining through. Each spread focuses on one color, and both images on the page are that same color. It’s so simple, but effective!

So how does this help you if you’re not developing novelty books? I say keep an open mind! Even simple objects can inspire, if you let them. For the PiBoIdMo challenge, all you need are concepts.

Surrender to your imagination! I don’t actively try to create ideas as much as allowing ideas to come into my head. Allow your mind to be free! Relax. Smile. Enjoy the process. Like the Chinese finger trap, the harder you pull, the stronger it resists. Don’t stress too much about trying to think up great ideas. When they come a-knockin’, just invite them in!

Salina Yoon is the creator of over 150 innovative books for young children. She has been named a finalist for the CBC’s Children’s Choice Book Awards for K-2nd Best Book of the Year, for Opposnakes (S&S/Little Simon), received the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal awards for Little Scholastic TOYS (Scholastic/Cartwheel) and Rock & Roll COLORS (Scholastic/Cartwheel), and the Nick Jr. Family Magazine Best Book of the Year award for My First Menorah (S&S). An author search on B&N, Amazon or IndieBound is the best way to track Salina’s books down. There are lots and lots of new titles releasing soon! (And Salina promises to have an updated website in Spring, 2011.)

Follow Me on Pinterest As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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