Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Robert's Snow -- Matt Phelan

"She Never Misses"
(ink and watercolor on paper mounted to flake)

Mark your calendar for the third auction of the Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure fundraiser at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, December 3-7, so you can bid on Matt Phelan's snowflake.

Look at that sly little grin, those arched eyebrows just daring you to come within range of that perfectly formed snowball. What spirit! What spunk!

Come to think of it, she reminds me a bit of Matt Phelan himself! When you look at Matt's work, you'll see that he has not lost touch with his inner air guitarist/trampoline jumper/yodeler/Tarzan.

In Matt's interview with 1000 Times No, a blog/podcast that explores the No's in life, I learned that Matt went through quite a few No's before he became an illustrator of children's books. His most notable No was the time he learned that the optioned screenplay he had quit his job to write would never be made into a movie. However, all of Matt's work in theater developed his skills of interpretation, which he has applied to illustration. After getting the screenplay no, he joined SCBWI and risked a portfolio review. Turned out to be the best $30.00 he ever spent, because it led to his first illustrating job!

Matt's first book came out in 2005:

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs
written by Betty G. Birney
(Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2005).
Three more followed in 2006:

The New Girl…and Me
written by Jacqui Robbins
(Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2006)

The Higher Power of Lucky
written by Susan Patron
(Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2006)

Rosa Farm
written by Liz Wu
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006)

Matt's 2007 books are:

Floridius Bloom and the Planet of Gloom
written by Lorijo Metz
(Dial Press, 2007)

A Box Full of Kittens
written by Sonia Manzano
(Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2007)

Where I Live
written by Eileen Spinelli
(Dial Press, 2007)

Very Hairy Bear
written by Alice Schertle
(Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007)

Matt keeps a sketch blog at Planet Ham. If you search his blog for all the posts labeled "Illustration Friday," you will see that he participated EVERY WEEK in 2006! Quite a goal, and quite a variety of pieces!

On Matt's website, you will learn that he is tickled to be able to say, "Now available in specially marked boxes of Cheerios is a cute-as-a-button miniature edition of The New Girl...and Me! The free book (one of five) is all part of Cheerios' very cool Spoonful of Stories program." You can also find some gorgeous Matt Phelan Original Wallpaper for your computer screen, and take a tour of his studio.

But here's what you've really been waiting for, my interview with Matt:

How and why did you get involved with the Robert's Snow project?
I first heard of the project two years ago and thought it was a fantastic idea. When the call for new snowflakes came up on the Blue Rose Girls blog this year, I wrote to Grace immediately and asked if I could participate.

What are some other children's book illustrators whose work you especially admire?
I'm a huge fan of children's books, so my list is pretty long. Emily Gravett, Brian Floca, and Alexandra Boiger are just a few current faves off the top of my head. Angela Barrett's recent version of Beauty and the Beast is stunning. David Small is not only one of our finest draftsmen, he is an absolute master of pacing. From the golden age, I have to put Ernest Shepard at the top of my list.

Did you have any sense when you were illustrating The Higher Power of Lucky that it might be Newbery material? Any idea that there would be the big brouhaha over the anatomical vocabulary?
I knew it was a wonderful book but it didn't occur to me to consider its award potential. To be honest, I wasn't sure an illustrated novel was even eligible. Although I realized that I had never read the word scrotum in a novel before, I had no idea it would cause a controversy. How naive.

Can you tell us anything about your top secret mission in Maine? (see sketches in recent posts on his blog)
Well heck, it wouldn't be much of a secret if I cracked the first time someone asked about it. No, I will say absolutely nothing. Except that the mission was for a book I'm writing. And the subject is somewhat nautical. But really, that's it. Stop your clever interrogation tricks!

Okay. No more clever interrogation. On to the silly stuff! Beer, wine, or sparkling water?
Beer. But only microbrewed beer, preferably from the Philadelphia area which includes some of the best breweries in the world.

Cake, pie, or creme brulee?
Creme brulee, because making it involves a tiny blow torch. It's the dessert of welders.

Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music, or Oklahoma?
I'll have to pick Oklahoma because sometimes I whisper the phrase "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" as a mantra. It's very soothing.

Here's what ELSE you've been waiting for: a "raffle doodle" being offered by Matt to one lucky reader of this Robert's Snow feature. Just leave a comment, and at the end of the week, I'll put all of the commenters' names in a hat and we'll draw for a winner! This is the original sketch that you might win:
Let the auction fun begin! May Robert's Snow be a giant blizzard of bidding that shuts down schools for five days. When it stops snowing, let's meet at the park for a snowball fight. I get to be "She Never Misses," and I personally want to throw the snowball (maybe with a rock or piece of ice in the center -- he doesn't play fair, so why should I) that hits Cancer right between the eyes so that snow goes behind his glasses and he's blinded, he gets a bloody nose, and goes running to mommy. Take THAT, you creep, for the year of hell you gave me! And THAT for all of my friends you've pelted...especially the ones you've taken out of the game way too early.


  1. That girl is going to be ME at auction time, so watch out!

    Seriously, I want this so badly for my daughter. Maybe if I chant "surrey with the fringe on top" over and over?

  2. I love this snowflake. That girl is so who I was as a kid.

    Wonderful interview, and thanks for the link to his blog. Interesting stuff there.

  3. Anonymous9:36 AM

    OK, I am remembering a certain snowball fight. My sister ended up in tears. I've got to send her the link to this snowflake, pronto. It's gonna look familiar to her, too. Seriously, the talent here is a little overwhelming. Don't you think?

  4. Oh well, I almost always missed...still do. But it's a great snowflake!

  5. I have four brothers and grew up in wintry cold Wisconsin so I've thrown my fair share of snowballs! I had to learn to wrestle well and throw water balloons, too - the joys of being the only girl.

    Sweet snowman sketch. My picture book dummy I'm working on right now has snowmen in it, so that lil' sketch would be a great inspiration in my office. :)

  6. That minx on the snowflake pelted me as I was sitting here reading this delightful feature! Well, now that we've bonded, I have to bid on this one. Thanks for the great scoop on Matt.

  7. What a wonderful interview!
    Matt is such a character and his snowflake is on my wish list!

  8. PEOPLE, PEOPLE, stop it! You're giving away these amazing gifts in raffles and such and I'm trying to graciously sit back, as coordinator of this whole she-bang, and let readers and bloggers win. I think I've held my tongue 'til now. I don't wanna be tacky, but shoot-fire, that is awesome. OH MY, look at that illustration. Really, that is fabulous, and I can't wait to find out what lucky raffle winner gets that. I love all these give-aways, and having one's graciousness tested is always a good thing, indeedyo.

    (Seriously, that's not a hint to put my name in the raffle. Seriously. I'm just going to admire from afar. I'm just sayin' -- what a great give-away. Kudos to you all!)

    What a great feature!! Yes, it warrants two exclamation marks! And then a third there. Mary Lee, may I quote the ending in tomorrow's post? So great, that hitting cancer right between the eyes with a snowball. What a kickin' snowflake. Man, it just rocks. It took me forever to get online this morning, but I'm ever-so rewarded by reading about Matt and seeing that snowflake and reading that feature.

    When I first saw the snowflake a few weeks ago, I wondered: Is it Ruthie from his illustrated book by Sonia Manzano?

    Okay, I love Matt Phelan's art work. And he's so funny, too, as made clear in this great write-up. "The dessert of welders." I love it.

    And, yes, I did a happy squeal in Publix last week as I picked up a box of Cheerios just for Matt's tiny book in there. It was one of a few of his I hadn't read yet. And just think -- all kinds of folks who eat breakfast cereals will see his art work now.

    I'm gonna shut up now. THANKS, MARY LEE and MATT! This was so great to read.

    jules, 7-Imp

  9. Anonymous1:22 PM

    I was Matt's roommate in college. At dinner a few months ago he mentioned his top secret plans for Maine, but I'll never tell!

    Well done, old friend!

    Sean Yeakle

  10. I've been hoping for a Matt Phelan original. Matt, if this doesn't work out, I'll trade you a set of mugs for a sketch.

    Am passing along the Robert's Snow word...

  11. This one is adorable! I love that crafty little grin.

    And I will join in the chorus: I have seen several books illustrated by this fabulous artist, and I remember thinking, "Ooh!" about all of them, especially, A Box Full of Kittens. Now I love The New Girl. The expressions are priceless!

  12. Consider my name thrown into the hat! A Matt Phelan original??? Swoooooon!

    But I do have to take issue with Matt's Philadelphia microbrew comment. Has he even been to Oregon?!


  13. What a great interview and feature. I just love Matt's work - he is fabulous!!! I'd love to be entered!!

  14. I'm in - doesn't remind of any one I know because I was a scaredy cat and didn't like being in the snow but you have to admit she does look like she has her mind set on never missing - way to go and kudos on the interview. I love these contests that all you feature bloggers are doing - they are wonderful - driving traffic your way and of course to Robert's Snow auction - that's what it's all about - woohooo - E :)

  15. This one's a personal fav ... I just love the look on that little imp's face!

    I have a treasured copy of LUCKY signed by Matt and Susan. But an original sketch? Wow! What a great prize!

    And ... what a great interview! And ... yeah Philly brews!

  16. Anonymous9:36 PM

    I met Matt in high school and I am sure I am most deserving of one of his originals. After all, I did sit through hours of one-act plays! Please pull my name....because Philly micro brews rock!

  17. She looks do mischievious! Love this one!!

  18. Anonymous6:47 AM

    Mary Lee - that last paragraph is the best thing I've read in a long time. If your snowball somehow misses, I'll be right behind you with one of my own.

  19. Anonymous8:44 AM

    What a kick, so mischievous. I love the print. "The dessert of welders", ha! Great interview.

  20. Mary Lee,

    I'm glad all those No's led Matt to the world of children's book illustration. I've seen Matt's snowflake...and his really keen "Keene" owl in person.

    I like your fighting spirit, ML. One of my dearest and oldest friends is battling stage four stomach cancer. I hope he'll be with us for many more years. He has a great attitude and a wonderful supportive family and circle of friends.

  21. Anonymous11:28 AM

    MATT, great sketch. My kids love your illustrations. My 2 year old thinks I am a Very Hairy Bear. My four year old wants to meet Shakeeta and thanks to Cheerios has been making me read it in spanish. My seven year old compulsively identifies with Floridius Bloom. Thanks for adding so much joy to their lives and mine. Maybe we can take in a Solas show together again sometime :) PEACE, Chuck

  22. What an excellent interview. I love his characters' faces--very expressive and endearing. (I seem to be all about the "e" words today...) Anyway, thanks, Mary Lee! And I really enjoyed your concluding comments.

  23. Anonymous4:23 PM

    Great work Matt. Cant wait for your next book.

  24. Thanks, everybody, for coming over to visit (and to throw your name into the basket for the raffle doodle drawing!!)

    I hope Matt's been over to see all his messages! Perhaps you should go over to HIS blog and leave some there, too!

    Thanks also for giving the ending of my feature such an AWESOME shout-out, Jules! I'll be celebrating 10 years since the end of treatment this coming August (I'm already planning the party). I went in for a baseline mammogram when I was 38 and bingo-ed on the first smash. Bummer, right? NO!!!!! It's all about early detection! So ladies, if you haven't had 'em smashed yet this year, don't wait another minute: get your appointment!

  25. Thanks everyone for stopping by and leaving such nice comments...all of which are certainly raffle-worthy. And thank you, Mary Lee, for such a full out bells and whistles profile! I did indeed think of this little girl as a snowball warrior and I'm glad you picked up on that. The doodle is ready to ship...

  26. I've been a fan of Matt's for years. His artwork is so original and whimsical. Very Hairy Bear is a masterpiece. Everyone should buy a copy or two. Oh- and the girl in the snowflake. That's definitely a reenactment of my cousin about to pummel me. She would just appear out of nowhere and- BAM! Ice melting down my back, stinging my eyes, up my nose. Such good times!


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