I’m happy to re-introduce picture book author Marlena Zapf to you today. Last week Marlena talked with me about the writing and publication process for her debut picture book Underpants Dance. Today we’re going to focus our discussion on movement -- the movement in the book, Marlena’s background in dance, and how she uses yoga and movement for her author visits!
Welcome back, Marlena! I love how you left a lot of room for illustrations in Underpants Dance, especially when Lily is dancing in her room. “First she did this. Then she did this. Then she went round and round like this. Then she said, “TA-DA!” At these places in the book, were the illustrations by Lynne Avril what you envisioned, or a total surprise?
I feel so fortunate that Lynne agreed to illustrate Underpants Dance. She brings Lily’s spirit to life so perfectly. I believe that picture books are a dialogue between text and illustration, and so I deliberately left room for Lynne to do her thing. I only gave my editor a few notes about what I wanted (like the Toulouse-Lautrec in the museum scene) and trusted the rest. I was expecting Lynne to come up with new things, so I wasn’t incredibly surprised by the illustrations in general.
What did surprise me was that when I received the cover illustration of Lily, it looked strikingly like a dance photo of myself that had been taken that very same week. I will add that Lynne had NEVER seen a picture of me.
Your website also includes some other great photos of you either dancing or wearing that really cool tutu. Do you have a background in dance?
I’ve always danced for fun, but I never studied dance until I was an adult. (My mother decided to save me from repeating her own unpleasant childhood experience with ballet by signing me up for Girl Scouts instead. I think I would have preferred dance class.) Perhaps it’s for this reason that people often tell me my dance has a childlike quality. I have fun, dance with abandon, and don’t care what anyone thinks of me.
As an adult, I’ve studied a bunch of different kinds of dance, and continue to take new classes when I can. I do something called contact improvisation, which is done with partners or groups, and plays consciously with the physics of gravity and momentum, as well as human connection — it’s a great metaphor for how we move through life and relationships. I’m also part of a community in New England that hosts what are sometimes called “barefoot” or “ecstatic” dances. Really what that means is you take off your shoes and dance however you want. For me, it’s a moving meditation.
School visits are such a big part of marketing picture books these days. How do you present your book to children, teachers, and school librarians? (A little birdie told me that it might involve movement.)
Lily’s story is really about self-expression, so I encourage kids to express themselves through activities that accompany the reading. And I don’t just stand there and tell the kids what to do. I engage with them. I’m certified to teach kids’ yoga and movement, so I use some of those techniques to help kids focus and then have fun with them after the reading.
If the children are sitting on the floor, I like to spread out colorful Yoga Dots, which I learned about from Rosemary Clough. You can buy them or make them out of old yoga mats. (Kids love to pick out their favorite color.) They serve a dual purpose. They give kids focus and a place to sit for the portion of the presentation for which they need to stay still(ish). Afterward, you can use them to play games in which the kids step, dance, jump, and move on or around the dots. This way, kids get their wiggles out, but the dots provide a focus that keeps things contained so that the “wild rumpus” doesn’t turn into utter mayhem. (Teachers are not fans of mayhem.)
Here’s a simple example. Set the dots around the space and play music or sing a song while kids move around the dots. You might encourage them to move at a certain speed or with a specific movement. When the music or song stops, kids jump on a dot and assume their favorite shape or yoga pose. Repeat!
Wow. I didn’t realize you were certified to teach kids’ yoga and movement, too. You are very multi-talented! It’s been a pleasure learning more about Underpants Dance and how you incorporate yoga and movement into your author visits. Thank you, Marlena!