Earlier this year, Shawn Harris (Mac Barnett’s oldest friend and racquetball enemy) came out with his first solo picture book, Have You Ever Seen a Flower? (Chronicle Books 2021), and it is amazing! Done with colored pencils (I really need one of those rainbow-colored pencils!) and handmade stencils (made from shapes cut or torn out of scrap paper), the vibrant colors practically jump off the page. It’s a book made for reading in the sunshine with your shoes off and your toes in the grass.
This picture book asks readers to go beyond just looking at a flower, to see it with all of your senses, to go inside, and to actually become a flower. It is a magical journey as well as a great reminder of how humans are connected to the world of nature, something everyone needs to remember.
One of my favorite things is how accessible Shawn Harris makes his art. There are several “drawing time with Shawn Harris” videos on YouTube. You can also go to Shawn Harris’s Instagram account to watch and learn how he draws flowers like those in the book. The process is mesmerizing, and I love that audience participation is always encouraged.
Several years ago, I took a class where we tried out different artistic techniques, from leaf prints to shaving cream art. Thanks to the wonderful teachers of that class, I learned that art is a personal, creative expression that is always right. One time I asked, “if I scribbled on a piece of paper, you’d say it was wonderful, wouldn’t you?” After a long pause, the answer was “we might not.”
How freeing to be in the warm embrace of acceptance with no judgment! That class gave me the courage to stop worrying over the results and instead, embrace the journey. It’s remarkable how your ability to be creative increases when you stop caring about the outcome or what others think. I didn’t learn this until I was an adult. Luckily, kids have Shawn Harris to inspire them to access their creativity and share it with the world.
Be sure to watch Mac Barnett read Have You Ever Seen a Flower? on the Mac Barnett Book Club Show Book Club with Shawn Harris accompanying on guitar. What a team! In addition to Have You Ever Seen a Flower?, check out A Polar Bear in the Snow (Candlewick Press 2020), written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Shawn Harris. Again, what a team!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza. During the lockdown, Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris created a 12-part live cartoon over Zoom with episodes airing every Saturday (just like when I was a kid). Pre-drawn illustrations by Shawn Harris were animated by hand with the two of them doing the voices. With original songs and snappy dialogue, The First Cat in Space is highly entertaining. Luckily, you can still watch all 12 episodes at www.thefirstcatinspace.com. As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan! Yes, I even have a First Cat t-shirt and the album of soon to be hit songs.
And “OH MY UNCLE TONY’S HOT CALZONEY,” the live cartoon is being adapted into two graphic novels! The first comes out in May 2022. Don’t miss it! “My thoughts exactly, sir!”