Month: May 2013

Children’s Book Review and Giveaway: Cozy Classics’ Les Miserables (closed)


Recently I was asked to review the latest addition of the Cozy Classics series by brothers, Jack and Holman Wang. I am an avid reader, and love any opportunity to read and review books, but being a children’s book, I was unsure about taking on this task. However, I soon realized I was being asked to review the adaption of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables into a children’s book, and I couldn’t resist seeing how they made this happen.

After all Les Mis is a story of heartache, famine, rebellion, murder, revenge, and survival, concepts no child needs to understand. To further fuel my interest I discovered the Wang brothers sum up their stories in 12 words and introduce each word with an image to help the child understand the word. In addition to their recent Les Miserables adaption, they have also rewritten classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, and War and Peace.  How do you take such complex, deep stories and sum them up in 12 words? I decided I would find out.

Their Summary:

What happens when the most complex literary form – the novel – is skillfully combined with the most simple – the baby board book?

Cozy Classics – – [Simply Read Books], the popular children’s board book series with a highbrow twist from twin brothers Holman Wang and Jack Wang, ventures to find out.

Designed as developmentally appropriate abridgements for the very youngest of learners, Cozy Classics retell the world’s most beloved literary works in just 12 simple, baby-friendly words. Complemented by photographs of lifelike, expressive and simply stunning needle-felted figures and objects,Cozy Classics inject a sense of narrative into the baby wordbook—and revitalize the genre for young and old alike. For while there are only so many years one can spend learning to count to ten or the colors of the rainbow, the pleasure that is to be found in the works of literature’s greats, as any adult knows, is forever!

Now, in April 2013, the brothers Wang expand the Cozy Classics repertoire with their takes on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace.

“From a very young age, children fall in love with characters: Barney, Dora, Cinderella,” says Holman Wang. “TheCozy Classics books foster a love of characters that will ultimately lead to the classics themselves. Unlike Barney and Dora, Les Misérables’s Jean Valjean and Pride & Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett are characters that children will never outgrow.”

My Summary:

I promptly requested two copies of the book, one for me to review, and one to giveaway to one of my lucky readers. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the book, I couldn’t wait to see what side of the story would be told. When it finally arrived I immediately opened it and was first struck by the images.

The images for the book are created by using a technique called needle felting, where felt is “punched” with a needle, causing it to become denser and entangled, allowing it to hold a shape. Each figure and object was carefully needle felted, with a surprising amount of detail added, then set in a scene, and photographed. The three dimensional quality this technique creates is mesmerizing, I found myself touching the images, almost believing they would feel fuzzy beneath my fingers. Although in true Les Mis style, not all of the images have the bright, happy colors associated with most children’s books, I do believe any child or adult would enjoy flipping through the pages.

As I read the Wang brother’s adaption of the story I did get a sense of the original with words such as “poor”, “rich”, “sad”, and “dark”. However, I felt some words were unnecessary to the story, such as the word “climb”. Yes, the characters in the story did climb from time to time to escape the vengeful police inspector, but if you have only 12 words to tell a story perhaps this one isn’t the best representation. In addition, the image that reflected this word was my least favorite. It shows an awkward angle of the inspector below a wall, with Cosette climbing over the wall, and Jean Valjean helping her up. Because of the angle it’s difficult to easily recognize Cosette as climbing.

Through the twelve words I did get a sense of the story, but only because I know it well. Someone unaware of the original will have no idea what is going on. However, I don’t believe their intent is for a baby or toddler to understand the complex emotions and story lines of Les Mis (thank goodness!). I believe their intent is for the parent to have the opportunity to share a book they love in a way that is appropriate for a child. This book acts as a learning tool, introducing them to new words, and as the child grows the parent can help them fill in the holes and eventually introduce them to the original.

The other question that arose as I flipped through the book is whether or not a child really needs to understand rich vs. poor, happy vs. sad, shouldn’t a child be protected from these titles at such a young age? I don’t have an all-encompassing answer to this question, it is something only each child’s parent can decide for themselves. Although I don’t have children yet, personally I would introduce this to my child. After all at an early age I fell in love with Annie, which is the epitome of rich vs. poor and happy vs. sad.

In conclusion to a very long review based on a very short book, I believe this could be a great book for children. The images are captivating, and for the most part give a good visual representation of basic words. It is a great learning tool for babies and toddlers, just beginning to form their vocabulary. I also think it is perfect for those avid reader adults, who love the classics. This is a great way to share a complex story with your child, although don’t expect much of the story line to be retained in just 12 words. It may not appeal to every parenting style, but I think the underlying concept, introducing classic tales to children, is amazing!

If this review piqued your interest, comment below to enter to win your very own copy of this classic! To enter either tweet about the giveaway, and include a link to your tweet, or like my blog page on facebook here, and include your facebook name in the comment! The giveaway will close next Friday June 7th at midnight.

Read more about the Cozy Classic’s book here and check out more of my reviews and giveaways here. Check back for a chance to enter in my upcoming giveaways of a photo canvas print, by photobox, and a new novel, All Roads Lead West, by Paul Matarelli. Thanks for stopping by and participating in this giveaway!


Visual Journal Page 43: Face Your Fears


This visual journal page was inspired by a series of illustrations in a Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) catalog. I love the playful quality of the images, the clean lines, and the way the black of the owl contrastes with the pink flamingo. I’m not sure what story the owl and flamingo were telling, but as I cut them out, and laid them in my journal, the phrase “face your fears” popped into my head.

The expression of the owl changes so much as he moves from position to position. You wouldn’t think two round-eyed circles could say so much, but this student illustrator did an amazing job bringing emotion across. I love how the eyes turn to pink as the owl finally sits on the flamingo’s back and introduces himself. As my cut outs lay unglued to my page I couldn’t help but create my own story, the story of the owl so curious about the flamingo, but too afraid to approach her, until he finally musters up the courage.

Face your fears, it’s a phrase that has been repeated time and time again. Traditionally facing your fears is supposed to result in a sense of peace, happiness, and success. The basic idea is that once you face your fears you will realize how trivial they were to begin with. But what about those who didn’t come out the other end. The ones that realized their fears were a reality, with a dismal outcome.

What about those knights in shining armor who went to fight for their loves, but ended up dead in a ditch. What about those risk takers who vowed to go down in history as the achiever of this, discoverer of that, never to be heard from again? What about the person who tried something new only to fail; or the girl who was shot down by the guy she always wanted to talk to; or the person who went after their dreams and never found success?

It’s thoughts like these that catch my mind as I consider facing my fears. It’s thoughts like these that creep into each of us, planting the seeds of doubts, and preventing the majority of us from truly facing our fears. The what ifs and how tos transform from simple black and white words on a page, fleeting thoughts in our mind, into giant, unanswerable questions, whose shadows we can never seem to escape.

I believe everyone knows the answer to their “big questions” their “what ifs”. I think deep down inside we all know what will really happen if we face our fears. The answer is the sensation in our guts, the flutter of our bellies, it’s our bodies attempt to reveal the true answer. Perhaps our brains become so inundated what the possible end results and scary outcomes that the real answers have to move down south, to space in the center of our bodies, a simple flutter in our middles that says this is what you really want, this is the right answer.

I think we should all learn to trust our gut, like our little owl friend in my visual journal page. I think we all need to risk the nose dive to find out the end result, to discover whether or not our gut was right. The outcome won’t always be what we expect, hope for, or want, but at least you tried, at least you now know, at the very least you can say you mustered enough courage to face your fears.


  • Visual journal
  • Scissors
  • Rubber cement
  • India ink
  • Paint brush
  • Sharpie
  • Beige Paper
  • SCAD Catalog images


To create this visual journal page I started by cutting out the owl and flamingo characters from a SCAD catalog. Once I had the pieces of my image I began to lay them out on the page. After I had a rough idea of where I wanted them, I decided it needed more. I needed to add a ground for the flamingo to stand on, and a branch for the first owl to sit on. To create these pieces of the puzzle I used a beige sheet of paper and loosely painted a branch shape using a thin paint brush dipped in India ink. I like the thick/thin quality it has, and it moves very easily. Once I had my branch complete I painted overlapping strokes along the bottom of the beige paper for grass. I made sure I left space between the very bottom of the page and the bottom of the grass because I wanted to cut it out.

Once everything dried I began cutting out the branch and grass. I then glued the characters down, and overlapped them with the India ink pieces. To connect the owl images together I took a sharpie and created a dashed line between the owl gut outs, to create a sense of movement, and show the progression of the owl moving across the page. To incorporate the words into the page I incorporated it into the dashed line.


Create a visual journal page about a fear you faced or a fear you know you need to face.

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Mixed Media Artwork: “Caged” and “Trapped” Interpreted

Mixed Media-Caged and Trapped

Last January I received an e-mail from a high school student in Birmingham, England asking if I could help them with an art assignment. As a high school art teacher myself, I was more than happy to help, after all my blog focuses on art tips and how tos. I was expecting a question about materials, a process I covered on my blog, or some other art related technique. However, I was surprised and flattered when I realized the questions didn’t relate to techniques or process, instead they were questions about me. She ran across my two pieces, “Caged” and “Trapped,” and decided to choose me as the subject of her final art assignment.

In this moment I felt like a real artist. I remember contacting one of my favorite artists, George Long, when I was in college. I had to select an influential artist and write a paper about them. I had the opportunity to talk to him on the phone, and interview him for my paper. It was a moment I will never forget, I had direct contact with someone who inspires me, and greatly inspires my artwork. I couldn’t believe the tables were turned and someone was asking me about what I do and why.

Her assignment was to find an artist that inspired her, write a short bio about them, and recreate the work of art that inspired her most. She explained the project and included questions for me to answer. I very quickly answered the following questions: 1) Are they any art movements in your life or you have been connected too, any background information where and when you were born? 2) When was this piece created, what was it created for, why did you use the mediums you did? 3) What were you trying to convey in this piece, what influenced you to do it? 4) How can I link this with my final piece, how can I carry it on to produce something similar? And I followed up with fairly long winded answers and much appreciation for being selected, and how honored I felt. The only thing I asked in return was to see her final product, which she recently sent.

Interpretation of Caged and Trapped

Reinterpretation of Caged and Trapped

To recreate my mixed media pieces she used watercolor, and I think they look amazing! It’s a little surreal seeing my name at the top of a paper, and artwork inspired by mine. I loved having the chance to help someone out with an art project, and I loved having the opportunity to see the finished product. I was even more shocked when a few weeks later I was approached by another student asking if she could use these pieces as inspiration for her art project. Technically I am a “professional artist” since I sell my work, but in this moment for the first time I truly felt like a real life artist.

Thanks for choosing me for your project Amy, and following up with pictures! Your project looks great!

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you find something to inspire your next project. Help me spread the word about my arts and crafts blog by sharing it with others! I couldn’t do it without you. Thanks for stopping by!


May Giveaway: Modern Art Desserts Cookbook (closed)

Free_Modern Art Desserts (2)

Image courtesy of Ten Speed Press, © 2013 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust.

As an artist, with a serious sweet tooth, I was beyond thrilled when I was asked to introduce Leah Rosenberg’s modern art inspired desserts to my readers. I was even more excited when I realized her work was featured in a cookbook, by co-chef at Blue Bottle Coffee, Caitlin Freeman.

My love for modern art, baking, and all things sweet makes me giddy thinking of the opportunities this cookbook presents. As I flip through Amazon’s sneak peak of the book my interest increases as I see snapshots of Lichtenstein, Khalo, and Matisse inspired desserts (click here to see the cookbook on Amazon). As I moved through the thumbnails of desserts I began reading the introduction, written by author Caitlin Freeman. With most books I quickly scan the introduction, eager to get to the meat of the book, the start of the story, so I was surprised to find myself enthralled in the introduction to this book, a cookbook no less.

Reading Caitlin’s journey as photography student turned pastry chef was interesting, motivating, and inspiring. Perhaps I found a deeper connection to Caitlin’s story as a wannabe not-so-starving, starving artist, however, I believe anyone who picks up this book will find her small business success story as interesting and inspiring as I did.

Although the recipes do sound complex, and may take longer than your average cake to make, I believe it could be a source of inspiration to any level of baker. I love nothing more than seeing how each sweet reflects the work of art that inspired it. I love seeing the hand of the bakers, as well as the modern artists, in these tasty treats. I just might have to make a trip to San Francisco to enjoy them myself.

I am so excited to offer this cookbook as one of my May giveaway items. Inside you will find Caitlin’s success story, along with recipes and how tos to recreate the modern art inspired desserts; which are created everyday at Blue Bottle Coffee, inside the SFMOMA. Whether you actually plan on attempting these creations, or you simply want an interesting and beautiful coffee table book, this book offers entertainment to anyone who decides to peak inside. As a daughter of an artist, this would be the perfect gift for my mom, or sweet tooth sufferer sister. Give it as a gift, or enjoy it for yourself!

To enter the giveaway all you have to do is leave a comment below and tweet about the giveaway! Please include your twitter name when you comment. The winner will be randomly selected from the comments using the plugin, And the Winner Is… Before the winner is notified their twitter account will be checked for the giveaway tweet. This giveaway will close Thursday, May 30th at midnight.

To read the original post about Leah Rosenberg’s edible art click here. To see the youtube video about Leah Rosenberg click here.

Also coming this month and next month in giveaways is a free copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables turned children’s book by Holman Wang and Jack Wang, a free classic canvas print from, and a free digital copy of All Roads Lead West by Paul Matarelli. Thanks for reading today’s post and participating in this giveaway! Check back and subscribe for a chance to participate in these amazing, upcoming giveaways![subscribe2]Free Sweepstakes

Visual Journal Page 42: Step Outside of the Box


This visual journal page is inspired by high school students. I currently am a high school art teacher and it was difficult returning to the halls of a high school, interacting with teenagers hyped up on hormons, and constantly being reminded of all the things I learned as I walked these halls almost ten years ago.

School was created as a place for study, to learn history, math, a place to discover what you are good at, and where you want to go in life. However, in reality school is also a place to discover yourself. This is where you have your first interactions with those outside of your family, you learn to develop relationships, deal with conflict, and discover your personality; and sometimes these lessons can be much harder than the the academic ones.

As I have matured the seemingly mountain of problems and bad situations I had as a teen has been reduced to a small pile. Things that caused great distraught and dramatic fights seem trivial and juvenile now. With each passing year I forget another silly teenage angst moment, and I am looking forward to the moment when the memories of poor judgment and insecurities don’t exist. Now as an outsider looking in, as I watch my students interact, gossip, and swing from mood to mood I am reminded that I acted the exact same way, and how pointless it all is.

There is such heartache as a teenager. You are constantly changing, physically, emotionally, and mentally. You work so hard to find your niche, stick with your friends, begin to date your crush, only to find that their attitude and interests are also changing, which may eventually push you apart. I remember being so self conscious, second guessing every word that came out of my mouth, and every piece of clothing I put on. I did anything to blend in with the crowd, yet try to stand out at the same time. All I wanted was to get noticed by the boy I liked and find a way to fit in.

Over time I have realized the internal struggles teenagers deal with can prevent them from expressing themselves on the exterior. Because many teens are dealing with fear of judgement and fitting it, they put on a false exterior in an attempt to hide insecurities. Suddenly, they wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, go to the same places, walk, talk, and become the same person. The unique nuances and quirks that separate and define each person becomes buried in an attempt to be like everyone else.

I remember going through this myself. I remember begging my mom to let me shop at Abercrombie and Fitch, because everyone was wearing it. I remember waking up extra early to plan my outfit, carefully apply my makeup, making sure my perfect exterior was constructed before setting foot in school. My only consolation is knowing this phase didn’t last forever. Eventually I did rediscover the qualities that made me, me, and I grew to appreciate and love them.

I wish I could impart my knowledge on every teenager unsure of themselves, putting up walls, and false exteriors to please someone else. But I have to remind myself that each experience helps us become our future selves, and some things can’t be learned through words, they must be experienced. But, if any words get through all I can say is high school really doesn’t matter. Your true friends will stick by you no matter what you wear or how you talk. The boy you like only really matters if he knows your true self, and likes you just the way your are. Have fun, relax, bigger problems will come later, take this time to enjoy life. Take a moment and try to step outside of the box and discover yourself before you waste time trying to become something you aren’t. You are more interesting, I promise.


  • Visual journal
  • Scissors
  • Rubber Cement
  • Book pages
  • Magazine cut outs
  • Sharpie
  • Colored Pencil
  • Packaging tape


This visual journal page was inspired by two separate magazine images I found. The black and white image was found in an old “Life” magazine and the colorful girl cut outs were found in a Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) magazine. I loved the contrast between the real life black and white image versus the pink and purple drawings. The idea for this page began onces these images made their way next to each other.

I began by cutting out the images and laying them out on the page. I liked the idea of having the colorful images in a straight line, with the black and white woman looking like she is literally stepping out of the page. After laying it out I decided I needed to create a sense of space, and an area that framed these images.

To do this I turned to my stack of old, yellowed books. I ripped out a few pages, laid them in a straight line, and loved the way it looked. The yellowed page made the black and white woman pop even more. I carefully glued down the pages and the images on top.

As much as I loved the layout it still looked incomplete. After considering various options I decided to add tape transfers of book pages to the top and bottom to frame the main image even more. To do this all I did was cut off a strip of clear packaging tape, lightly taped it on top of the yellowed book pages, and quickly ripped the tape off. This caused the top layer of ink and some of the paper to stick to the tape, creating a semi-transparent affect. I then taped the tape transfer to the top and bottom of the page.

Last, but not least, I wrote my words with sharpie under the black and white image. To tie the words in with the overall look of the page I traced back over it in purple and pink colored pencils, to match the colorful cut outs.


Incorporate a newspaper or book page tape transfer somewhere in your next journal page.

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