Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nanny's Violin

I've been absent for ages, but I'm happy to be popping back in with a poem inspired by my latest challenge. Buffy hosts today, so pop over for more Poetry Friday offerings.

When my children surprised me by refurbishing my grandmother's violin on the sly, I took up the challenge and signed up for lessons. Not that my writing isn't challenging enough, but that old violin had sat in our closet for most of my childhood, its strings snapped and horsehair hanging off the bow. I never heard my grandmother play the violin, but I have a picture of her in a girls' string orchestra and another of her as a young woman cradling that instrument like it's pretty important to her.

Velma Collemer Brousaides played in one of the Boston orchestras started under the WPA in the 1930s. At least once she played in the Hatch Shell along the Esplanade beside the Charles River.

How could I let her beloved violin remain silent? So here I am, two months into private lessons. My optimistic teacher says I'll be a fiddler by the fall. My calloused finger tips think I'm a fiddler already, but my fingers (which don't cross strings easily) and my bowing arm (which still produces plenty of scratchy notes) think otherwise.

But my persistence (which I learned by writing!) has led me from "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to some simple fiddle tunes (slowly, still). When I can't manage to tune the violin, my accomplished cellist granddaughter rescues me so I can continue to enjoy this bond with the grandmother I remember.

This poem is in the style of the "Say" poems by the wonderful poet Nikki Grimes in her book Words with Wings. I love using "Say" poems to encourage kids to pile on words!

Say “violin”
and my fingers try not to grip the bow,
my wrist tries not to go begging for G
with my elbow too high or too low,
and when the SCRATCH says begin again
I picture my grandmother on the Esplanade 
playing this violin, and I relax, 
let the bow glide down and up
over the sweet spot, my fingers arched
over the neck playing "Sweet Betsy from Pike"
for Nanny and for me.

                                Joyce Ray

Friday, January 30, 2015




The recent blanketing of snow is just what I've been waiting for. Not because I like to shovel, but because it's the perfect time to share a snowy day poem. With her permission, I'm sharing Diane Mayr's poem, her gift to me for the Winter Poem Swap along with a delicious poetry collection entitled The Bees, by British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. How lucky for me that Diane took a break from her amazing Kud-dos to Emily project to participate in the Winter Poem Swap. Keep an eye on her blog Random Noodling for haiku paired with Emily Dickinson's poetry.

 "A Snowy Monday," a painting by New Hampshire artist Lilla Cabot Perry, inspired the poem of the same title. It's a series of haiku, but perhaps it's also a modern haiga because Diane, so practiced in this art, paired her poem with the painting. And that makes me think it's also an ekphrastic poem!

A Snowy Monday

early morning
silence before
the snow plow

snow day
no good reason not to
have another cup

they check
the root cellar 
for a nose

from the safety
of a snowy hemlock
house sparrows scold

a little color
into the day

radiator clink
the smell of wet wool

         ~dmayr says "While the haiku and the painting in a haiga share the same space, they are meant to complement, and not explain, one another." And the poem "A Snowy Monday" does just that. The eye takes in a scene so familiar to those of us who live in the north, while the ear hears the plow rumbling by, birds chattering, the radiator churning out heat, and the nose inhales the aroma of brewed coffee or tea. It's the last olfactory detail that really makes me love this poem. It brought me right back to my childhood -  "the smell of wet wool mittens."

Skip over to These 4 Corners for the Poetry Roundup. Thanks, Paul!

Friday, November 7, 2014




Welcome to Poetry Friday. I'm sharing one haiku today. Click over to  Diane, Queen of Haiku, at Random Noodling for lots more poetry and inspiration.

This fall we took in the Bernard Langlais retrospective exhibit at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine. My husband took lots of photos.

 Langlais dotted his Maine property with fantastic animals created from any kind of wood he could find. The animal sculptures delighted me and inspired this haiku.


lions, tigers, bears

a wooden menagerie

barnyard fun - oh my!

I love writing from museum experiences. Though I wouldn’t exactly call this an ekphrastic haiku! Fun, though.

Langlais’ sculptures are placed throughout Maine on an art trail, and a preserve is being created on his property in Cushing.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Imani is the tiniest girl in her village. The children tease her and tell she'll never amount to anything. But Imani's mother tells her stories about characters in Maasai mythology who accomplish impossible things. Imani begins to believe she can accomplish something great.

Thanks for stopping by to catch this interview with Hazel Mitchell,
illustrator of IMANI’S MOON by Janay Brown-Wood, a 

Welcome, Hazel! I’m delighted to host one of the blog tour stops for your stunning new book. Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island has generously provided a copy of Imani’s Moon for a Giveaway! Readers can post a comment below to be entered in the drawing for a signed copy.

Hazel and Toby
I first “met’ you when I purchased Daniel Stefanski’s How to Talk to an Autistic Kid. You illustrated this terrific book that helps readers understand what’s going through the mind of a young person who is on the autistic spectrum. You’ve been very busy since that project, so thanks for stopping here to talk about your latest book, Imani’s Moon, written by JaNay Brown-Wood and just released this month.

Joyce Ray: We hear a lot about an illustrator wanting to absolutely love a story because he/she will be working on the project for a long time. What aspects of Imani’s Moon captured your imagination? How long was this project in development?

Hazel Mitchell: There were things that immediately appealed to me about Imani’s Moon. I love the fact it’s set in Africa and on the moon! Two completely different environments - challenging to draw. I also love the folktale and fantastical elements of the story.  So there was no doubt I would say yes. There were challenges – this was the first time I’d illustrated an African child and the Maasai, in particular, are such an elegant shape. Plus all the cultural specifics to get right! I didn’t have an enormous amount of time to work on the book. I think it was 4 months total.

JR: Imani is definitely a little peanut of a girl, and the story revolves around her small size and her ability to dream big. I love her winsome, dreamy expression. What resources can an artist draw on (pardon the pun) to deliver an expression that is just right for a character?

HM: Hmm. Good question. Firstly, one can draw on yourself and your own experiences of being in situations as a child. How did you feel if you were teased? Different? Had a big dream? I spent a good deal of time looking at photos of Maasai children. The girls and boys are pretty indistinguishable at a young age. Their hair is mostly shaven. They are so cute, though! So, when you start to draw, a character usually starts to come through. I liked Imani’s impishness. She’s a very determined character. I tried to walk a thin line between realistic features and cartoony. Not easy, I can tell you. I hope it has worked!

JR: I’m very interested in the challenges of illustrating a story outside of one’s own culture. Will you talk about the challenges presented by this project? What avenues were open to you for research?

HM: Yes, this was a challenge, as I said before. Totally outside my realm and I’ve never been to Africa. But then, all books usually take you out of your comfort zone somehow and that’s the fun of it. We’re lucky these days to have the resources of the internet. You could research forever! I think really immersing yourself in looking at everything you can is the only way to go. Online photo searches are probably the best to explore the world of another culture if you can’t go there. I use Bing, Google, Pinterest, Flickr. I visited websites about Maasai and African culture; researched snakes, owls, chimpanzees in Africa. 
I spent a lot of time looking at the layout and different houses in Maasai villages. And trees and undergrowth that Imani might see! I went to the library and found books and read more on Maasai heritage, much more than I needed to know, but it gave me a good grounding. The clothing and jewelry are also very specific. My friend’s son had lived with a Maasai tribe, so I was able to wrap myself in a Maasai blanket and hold a spear! I have to say the images with the moon were much easier to imagine! I wish I’d had the time and resources to visit a Maasai tribe … maybe one day!

JR: How does a project influence your choice of medium or technique? Can you share your process for deciding which artist’s tools will allow you to create the look you’re seeking?

HM: It’s a hard one to answer. I just kind of feel it when I read the manuscript. I felt a folktale like this needed lots of rich colour and detail - Africa, the moon, the colours of the Maasai clothing. It shrieked texture and depth. Also the skin colour of the Maasai is very rich. I knew I wanted to use more watecolour technique than in my other books, with a looser line and couple these with digital colouring. The underpaintings for the spreads are all produced in monochrome (blue) wash and pencil, with the colour laid over in Photoshop, a technique I love. This text deserved detail to match the story.

JR: Are there artists or illustrators who have been major influences as you have evolved as an artist?

HM: Many. Too many! I love English artists (being English!) The Pre-Rapaelite’s, Impressionists, Victorian painters. Turner, Whistler, all those. I love to look at old Victorian lithographs and woodcuts and the magazines of the pre-war with fabulous linework! As an illustrator I find I am influenced by Edward Ardizzone, Quentin Blake, EH Shepherd, Pauline Baynes, David Small, Eric Rohmann, Ralph Steadman, Arthur Rackham, Brian Floca, Garth Williams, Melissa Sweet, Loren Long, Marla Frazee … shall we stop there?

JR: How does living in Maine feed your artistic spirit? This is a loaded question since I was born and raised in Maine!

HM: Maine is a beautiful state and has a great tradition of writers and illustrators living and working here. It’s great to be part of that tradition. It’s peaceful and diverse and I wouldn’t live anywhere else! OK, maybe England.

JR: I read in another interview that you plan to write and illustrate your own books at some point. Do you have any in the works and can we expect to welcome a book authored by Hazel Mitchell in the near future?

HM: It’s happened! I have a new book coming out with Candlewick in fall 2016, working with the amazing editor Liz Bicknell. It’s called TOBY and is about an adopted poodle (based on my real dog, Toby who is a rescue) and his relationship with a young boy who adopts him. I am so excited this project is happening, and Candlewick is a fabulous house to work with.

JR: Congratulations! Can you give us a sneak peek into one of your next projects?
Illustration from ANIMALLY

HM: Right now I have three books coming out in 2015. One of these is Animally with Kane Miller by Lynn Sutton. It’s a fun rhymer about all kinds of different animals. Here’s a sneak peek at one of the illustrations.

Thanks, Hazel for sharing your artistic process with us. Best wishes for a successful launch of Imani's Moon! 

Don't forget to leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for this beautiful book about a girl who believed. In one week, on November 7, I'll place the names in a hat and draw the winner. Good luck!

Hazel Mitchell is originally from England and now lives and works in Maine. When she wasn't riding horses as a youngster, she was drawing them. After attending art college in the UK, she spent several years in the Royal Navy and then worked as a graphic designer. Now she's doing what she always dreamed of - creating books for children. Her latest titles include Imani's Moon, One Word Pearl and 1,2,3 by the Sea. Her first book as both author and illustrator, TOBY, will be published in 2016 by Candlewick Press. Her work has been recognized by Bank Street's Best of Children's Books, Society of Illustrator's of Los Angeles, Foreword Reviews and Learning Magazine. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, NYC.