Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Trip to JASNA AGM 2016 : Pre-Conference Part VI


A Trip to JASNA AGM 2016 : Pre-Conference Part VI

Thursday Oct. 20: The Making of Cozy Classics

Another fun talk in the evening was by Jack Wang, creator of the Cozy Classics series of child-friendly classic novels.

The idea all started when Jack Wang's oldest daughter was a baby. He got tired of reading her the same stories over and over. They usually feature rhyming text, bright colors and animals. He wondered whether there were books adults could enjoy that will still teach children language skills and engage their interest. Not finding anything that suited his interest, Jack reached out to his twin brother Holman to bounce an idea off him. Holman liked the idea and suggested needle felted illustrations. His wife does needle felting and he thought it would be a good medium to work with. Holman does the needle felting and principal photography, so I wonder if he regrets his suggestion? (Ha ha) 

The first concept was to have 20 child-friendly words, however they soon realized that meant they needed 20 illustrations and that was too time-consuming and difficult. They reduced the number to 12 and brainstormed lists of words to use. Jack, an writing professor at Cornell, and dad, is well qualified to choose words that help a child develop and also words that adults will get a smile out of if they know the story. 

The books feature 12 illustrations of needle-felted characters. Needle felting is the processing of stabbing loose wool with a barbed needle. (This could be useful when designing the villainous characters). They wrap the felted wool around armature to allow their characters to be posed. Then they add faces and change the expressions to suit the story.

Holman had the idea to use pages from the original books as background. That didn't quite work out so they use the first page with the character standing on it. Many of the sets are made at Holman's house using dollhouse furniture.

 Other illustrations are photographed on location in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

They had interest from a publisher right away, but the publisher wanted them to change the name of Pride and Prejudice! The publisher felt Prejudice wasn't an appropriate word for a children's book. The publisher clearly missed the concept so they passed. Fortunately they have had interest from other publishers and started with a Canadian publisher. They are now with Chronicle Books. The new publisher is releasing some of the backlist titles and a new title each year. The newest releases are War & Peace (with only 3 figures-how?) and Great Expectations. Upcoming books include Wizard of Oz and Little House on the Prairie

The Wangs also have a Star Wars Classic Yarns series.

More pictures can be seen in this album

I've purchased some of these for my nieces and nephews and/or have read almost all of them. I just love the adorable needle felted illustrations. I don't always agree with the word choices used to tell the story but as Jack explained, the fun for grown-ups is in the storytelling. We can throw in the lines we've memorized, do voices, etc. I have to say that Emma is by far my favorite in the series. Her facial expressions are priceless and I think it tells the story well. Naturally, I was loved hearing Jack speak about the creative process and get some books signed for my young cousins with whom I was staying. Everyone else seemed to agree with me because the line to purchase books and have them signed was very long! My cousin and her husband appreciate the gifts and her husband actually read a Jane Austen book for the first time! 

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