The Neighborhood Sing-Along - Miss Mary Mack

©Nina Crews from The Neighborhood Sing-Along 2011

I have just returned from Sheboygan Wisconsin. Spent a day talking about my books at the Mead Public Library and leading an art workshop at the Kohler Art Center. Spent two evenings talking shop with other authors and illustrators while tasting Wisconsin specialties like fried cheese curds. (Yes, fried cheese curds.) Here are some photos of me in an article about the festival from the  Sheboygan Press. You can look at them here.  (But be patient, there are lots of photos of Steven Kellogg first!)

During my morning presentation I learned something new which is the reason why this post is titled “Liar, Liar, Liar”. Apparently in Chicago, the song, “Miss Mary Mack,” is sung a little differently than what is printed in my book, The Neighborhood Sing-Along. Children’s author  James Kennedy sat in on my session and told us that when kids get the end of the song they shout “liar, liar, liar!” because the song is all lies. I am sad to say that I don’t think I ever really got the joke as a kid, but no room for subtleness in Chi-town. Fun!

Also fun is James Kennedy’s project the 90 second Newbery.  Kids of all ages create a 90 second film based on their favorite Newbery award winning book.

If you're Happy and you know it

“If You’re Happy and You Know It” From The Neighborhood Sing-Along ©Nina Crews 2011

Will you be in the Hudson Valley area this weekend? Come by, buy a book, or say hi!

I will be signing books at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival this Saturday from 10am – 4pm. Many wonderful children’s book authors and illustrators will be sharing their work! Walter Dean Myers – the current Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Donald Crews, Ann Jonas, Jacqueline Woodson and Seymour Simon to name just a few. Should be a great day to read books!

My first trip ever to the Easter parade! What fun!

Here are a few of the more extravagant hats and outfits sported by women, men and dogs!

butterfly hat

©Nina Crews 2012

Dogs with easter hats

©Nina Crews 2012

Easter hats

©Nina Crews 2012


easter hat

©Nina Crews 2012

©Nina Crews 2012

easter suit

©Nina Crews 2012

Brooklyn Santa’s ©Nina Crews 2011

Can you ever have too many santas?
May your holiday season be filled with good fun and good cheer!

A Was an Apple Pie... From The Neighborhood Mother Goose @Nina Crews 2004

Come join me, Donald Crews, Yumi Heo, Boris Kulikov, Jerry Pinkney, Amy Schwartz, Eric Velasquez, and Neil Waldman for Family Day at the Katonah Musuem of Art!

An illustration from The Neighborhood Mother Goose has been included in this show and I will be there this Sunday along with seven other illustrators participating in the show. The event runs from 12:30 to 5pm and I will be there from about 2 to 4pm.

At 2:30 there will be a half hour panel discussion with me and my father, Donald Crews, which will be followed by a booksigning.

Here’s a review of the show:

For more info on the event:

This coming weekend is the Brooklyn Book Festival! A perfect time to come to some children’s book events!

On Saturday, September 17, 2011,

11-11:45am – I will be reading and signing Jack and the Beanstalk and The Neighborhood Mother Goose at Greenlight Bookstore, on Fulton Street in Fort Greene.

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews Published by Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

12:30 – 1:30pm – Collage with Crews! A Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event. Let’s make some art together! Each child is invited to take a nursery rhyme or song and create their own illustration using magazines, paper, and drawing. Central Branch, Brooklyn Public Library, Youth Wing. Space is limited. First come, first served.

Inspired by Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star…©Nina Crews 2011

And on Sunday, September 18, 2011,
I’ll be just another parent at the readings happening at the Brooklyn Book Festival Children’s Stage at Borough Hall. Fun!

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews. Published by Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

I am so pleased that my retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk will be published next week! I started thinking about the story way back in 2004 and wrote my first drafts in 2006. It’s about time!

The visual possibilities excited me first. I loved the idea of a huge beanstalk curling into the sky past a brick apartment building.

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews

I then did a little online research and learned that that the story as I knew it was one of many possible versions of a basic sketch – a boy, called Jack, climbs a beanstalk and meets a giant. From there almost anything can happen. In the earliest English versions, Jack is simply a giant slayer, killing giants who terrorize Cornwall. In Victorian versions, Jack is often portrayed as a naughty, lazy, stupid boy in need of redemption. In recent years, the story has continued to undergo big changes – Jack has even become Kate in one notable example. With such a wide range of interpretations, I thought a contemporary Brooklyn take on the tale had possibilities, and then, out of the blue, I found a small article in the local newspaper about a boy who grew a giant beanstalk with some exotic beans that he’d found in a local store. I definitely wanted to explore this idea further.

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews

As I wrote, I had to resolve how to address two themes that loom large in this story – justice and a restoration of the social order. The giant is a thief and killer. Jack’s own stealing and killing are justified by the fact that the giant has either killed his father or has killed other young boys and threatens him. Was my Jack poor? Fatherless? A thief? Perhaps, I worried too much (after all nobody can truly climb a giant beanstalk), but I felt that if I was going to set this in the present then present day values had to come be considered.

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews

My Jack is not poor and his story is not a tale of vigilante justice. He is a curious young boy and the giant is a braggart. The giant is living the large caught up in the clouds. Jack gets his magic beans doing chores for his neighbor, and climbs up to the giant’s castle. Curiosity sends Jack up. And through his escape from the giant’s castle, he brings the giant “down to size.”

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews

There are risks and rewards in working with familiar material. I love the many versions of this tale and I enjoyed building my version from them. I also had fun making some big changes to the story. My hope is that readers will find this retelling a satisfying twist on well-known material.

A couple of reviewers have commented (very nicely) on the naturalism of my photographs of children. Many of my favorite photographers like Helen Levitt, Andre Kertesz and Roy DeCarava created images that capture the beauty of unexpected and unguarded moments. But this, like all things, does require some effort. In my case I use an extra tool when things don’t quite go my way, Photoshop.

Mega Sashes and Glass photo ©Nina Crews

When I planned the image I wanted for “Do Your Ears Hang Low” I imagined a group of kids hamming it up in front of a shop window filled with mirrors. There is a fantastic glass shop on Fifth Avenue just off of Bergen Street in Park Slope perfect for my needs, I thought. (If you are ever nearby you should go inside – it is beautifully grungy with old wooden shelves holding large pieces of glass.)

I contacted my cast – kids I knew through my nephews, Jack and Gus, and the son of a good friend of mine. We picked a date that worked for everyone – Yom Kippur. Public school was closed and all of the kids could make it. And when I arrived at the location just before four kids, plus accompanying adults and siblings – I found the unexpected. The glass shop was closed. Not for the holiday, it is always closed on Monday. It hadn’t occurred to me to check.

do your ears hang low

"Do Your Ears Hang Low" outtake ©Nina Crews

I scrambled around looking for likely reflective storefronts and had the kids try out one spot. But it wasn’t working. The glass was dark and the kids couldn’t really see themselves. They seemed self-conscious and were having a hard time understanding what I needed. The background looked too busy. I was having a hard time remembering the words to the song.

So we left. I thought that maybe I could pull something together with what we’d done, but I did need to try another idea.

IMG_7471 © Nina Crews

We found a nice wide set of brownstone steps. If I left enough room at the top of the image, I would have a good clean space for the type.  And then we started to shoot.

Most of the kids were upbeat and happily hammed it up. But I have learned to expect that not every child finds it easy or natural to be in front of the camera and also that a child can have a bad day sometimes. So it was expected, though still frustrating, that one kid would sulk in almost every frame I took. Luckily I got one or two nice shots that I could collage into the image above using a bit of Photoshop magic.

Perhaps the glass shop wouldn’t have worked after all. Perhaps if I had used the photo on the stairs with one slightly sad and pensive looking boy, I would have told a different story – a somewhat sadder, softer story. But I wanted upbeat and silly. So here we go!

do your ears hang low

"Do Your Ears Hang Low" , The Neighborhood Sing-Along ©Nina Crews 2011

Here’s a short video of my reading at Community Bookstore a couple of weeks ago. We had a packed house of young singers. A perfect antidote to a rainy Sunday morning!

Nina Crews at Community Bookstore

follow this link –

I few weeks ago, I did my first ever skype author visit. What a great way to have technology work for us authors!

Nina Crews in her studio

I spoke with the children at the Upper Room Christian Academy-A Preparatory School, in Raleigh, North Carolina for about 30 minutes. Prior to our chat, the children read my books and talked about my work. On the day of, they were excited and ready with questions for me. I showed them previews of The Neighborhood Sing-Along and the sketches I made before photographing.

We did have some glitches. Our first scheduled chat didn’t happen, because the school’s internet connection was down. Our second try went pretty smoothly. Of course, skype can be a bit touchy – occasionally we’d have lags in transmission or we’d lose the picture, but this wasn’t too distracting.

It was great to be able to make a connection with the kids that would not have happened any other way. It is always difficult to arrange visits with schools that are not in my local NYC area. I look forward to doing more visits like this. Almost like being there!

Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and The Beanstalk

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