A K is for Kahlo Giveaway Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

It's September 16, the second day of Hispanic Heritage Month!

As an ex-Kindergarten teacher, the September-October time of year was always one of my favorite. There's so much going on, so much to celebrate. The kids are just getting into the swing of things, fall swirls through the crisp air, it seems like apples and pumpkins are everywhere, and the curriculum is rich for reading and learning and experiences. I used to love the free candy that would come with Halloween time--'confiscating' what the kids weren't supposed to have and promising I'd give it back later...which really meant I'm gonna eat this in the boring faculty meeting after school next week after we've both forgotten you were trying to sneak a laffy taffy into your mouth in line at the bathroom.

Another reason I used to love this time of year during my teaching career was celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, or Latinx Heritage Month as some are now using. I'm partial--some of my favorite people on the planet are Latinx. My best friend from college, Elizabeth Amaro, who is an artistic genius in her own right and is responsible for me becoming a bilingual teacher as she and her family gave me full immersion experiences in the Spanish language, introduced me to Frida Kahlo. We used to watch the film starring Frida starring Salma Hayek ad nauseum, which led to countless inside jokes and random quotes we still use today. Nearly 20 years later, here I am with my ninth book published through The English Schoolhouse...

K is for Kahlo by me, brilliantly illustrated by Howell Edwards Creative

You may be having trouble focusing on the book cover because of one of the following three distractions:
-my awesome afro
-my poppin' lipstick
-the incredible floral crown I have adorning my crown

Well I inherited the afro, the lipstick is Mac's Ruby Woo, and if you wanna know about the gorgeous floral headband, you're in good company. I'm not the only one who loves my high school friend Vashelle's creations...she's attracted the attention and business of some pretty big names--

Model/Actress Denise Vasi & her daughter Lennox
Love this one.
Celine Khavarani's baby shower, celebrity relations VP for Marc Jacobs

So a few months ago I was at home in Rome pregnant with my fourth kid (still am), and I saw the last pic and decided to reach out to Vashelle for my own headband. And I love it. (Fun fact: it gives a nod to my soon to be born child's moniker, and Vashelle made it just for me.)

When I was wearing it around the house recently and caught a glimpse of my book K is for Kahlo, I thought it'd be cool and relevant for us to do a collaboration/giveaway in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

I sent Vashelle some questions, and she responded candidly. Check out the woman behind these floral crowns below in this interview...and keep reading until the end to find out how to win a copy of K is for Kahlo AND your very own headband! We're giving away two of each.

Viva Frida!
Viva read alouds!
Viva la arte!
Viva headbands worn as crowns!

Wishing you all a gorgeous weekend and upcoming week.

Here's the interview:

     Hey Vashelle, thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I adore what you're doing and am so excited to share your work with anyone who reads this blog. So we'll just jump into it. 
     We're from a small town in Texas. How, if at all, do you think your upbringing affects your creativity? 

       I spent most of my lifes time in Texas, but Ive also lived in 8 states and one foreign country. Having moved every one to three years to completely different places (in terms of landscape, culture, etc.) definitely affected my creativity. I carry each and every place in my spirit, but I think Arizonawhere I was born and where my family is fromand my three years in Germany have influenced my creativity the most. Arizona for my life experiences, family history, culture and overall mysticism of the Southwest, and Germany for the forests, museums, history and so forth. The town I lived in still has a standing hexenturm, a tower for the purpose of hanging alleged witches. If that doesnt set a childs imagination ablaze I dont know what does.

To what extent does Frida Kahlo's art influence you? 

To be honest, Fridas art challenges me the most in my writing and personal life. When you read her poetry, her letters to Diego, and look at her art, the most admirable thing about her was her honesty. She had no qualms about being vulnerable by sharing her pain and shadow with the world. Thats the kind of writer and human I want to be, but I cant say I always have the courage.

How'd you get the idea to do the floral headbands? 

Id made one here and there in the past, but after I moved to Maryland from Oahuwhere there was only one overpriced craft store and my creativity was in the pitsI went kind of crazy making all sorts of things. I started making and selling jewelry on Etsy and added a couple of headbands on a whim. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they sold, so I decided to keep making them!

Vashelle's lovely daughter

Which design that you've created is your favorite? 

I dont really have designs in mind when I make the headbands unless theyre custom orders and my customer is looking for something specific. I tend to lay out all the pretty florals Ive collected and arrange them in ways that appeal to me. If I think back, one of the prettiest was a simple Iris arrangement. It was all-white and looked like something suited for a bride. Maybe thats what it was used for! I may never know.

Where have your headbands been featured? 

Ive had two high-profile customers (which was amazing and totally unexpected). One ordered a few for her daughters Frida-themed birthday party (for herself, her daughter and photo booth for guests) and the other for her flamingo-themed baby shower. Ive had a couple of people, unrelated as far as I know, wear my headbands to Frida Fest at the Dallas Museum of Art. Ive had someone order one for herself and her mother for their mother/daughter trip to Mexico for Dia de los Muertos. Ive had a little girl wear my one of my headbands when she dressed like Frida Kahlo for Dress Like an Artist Day at her school in suburban Massachusetts. That one might be my favorite. A part of me wants to ask every single customer what theyre using the headband for and if they can send me a photo. Ha!  

Who is your favorite artist of all time? 

As much as I want to say Frida or even a Medieval painter (did I mention I like dark?), Id have to say Salvador Dali. I have an insanely active and intuitive dream life, so much that I used to mix up my dreams with reality when I was a kid. I grew up all the way to my mid-20s thinking my family and I went on a cruise when I was little. I brought it up one day and my mom was like, What cruise? We never went on a cruise. I was thinking damn, how many of my other awesome childhood memories are a lie? Haha. But yes, Dali because of his paintings strange, dream-like quality. I have an innate understanding of them, almost like my mother tongue.

What other creative ventures do you have going on? 

I write when I can, and I facilitate a writers group that I started as soon as I moved here over two years ago. Ive been lucky enough to be published several times in various (print) magazines, but my writing passion is the personal essay. Id like to write a collection of them. Or maybe a collection of vignettes disguised as fiction since Im still working on the courage part.

Beyond that Ive found my passion is silversmithing. I have to force myself to go to sleep at night otherwise Id be in my garage working at the bench until I pass out. Thats how much I enjoy it. It combines my mental creativity, love for nature (I use natural crystals and stones in my silver pieces) and need to get dirty and tactile. The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction after finishing a piece is unlike that of any of my other creative ventures.

Where can readers find more about you and your designs/follow you? 

I am most active on Instagram. I have three accounts: my personal account (@itsvashelle), jewelry account (@revel.designs.by.shelly), and headband account (@floral.crowns.by.revel.designs). Id love to see everyone on any and each of them! Im a social butterfly in real life so social media is really no different for me.

Do you create full-time? What are some of your other interests? 

I believe I do! Even when Im not actively creating something I am thinking about it. I write essays in my head all the time thinking Ill remember most of when I finally get to sit down and write, but then I dont (my short term memory is awful, but I can still remember some conversations you and I had in high school. Ha!). I think about crafts, headbands, jewelry, silversmithing, home projects all day long. I struggle a lot with feeling like theres never enough time in a day for all the things I want to do. To take it a step further, I often worry my life will be cut short before I master the creative things I want to master, learn all the things I want to learn, see all the places I long to see.

My other interests include forest-bathing, museum-going, historical site-seeing, library-meandering, old cemetery-visiting, antique-hunting, wine-tasting, cheese and meats-eating, and wanderlusting.

Anything else you want to add?

Im so glad weve connected. You have a distinct position in one of my memories from 20 years ago, right after a pivotal adolescent moment Ive pinched into a corner of my mind. The saying, They may not remember what you saidbut they will remember how you made them feel, comes to mind. I was a lost soul. And you were kind. You might see your name in my collection of personal essays someday. <3






The Cover of My Upcoming Book...for Adults

For the last three years, I've been creating full-time--publishing books for kids, curating high art & producing documentaries and a web series. I oftentimes post ideas that I want to bring into reality on my personal Facebook page. Until now, I've only published literature meant for young readers via The English Schoolhouse. In the winter of 2016, I posted an idea that I had to write and publish a collection of short stories about humor that can be found in the most devastating circumstances. I'd tentatively titled the project, "Rubbing Gravy on Emotional Wounds and Other Stories."

Here's a couple of examples I pulled from my FB page of the types of stories that will be found in the book:

From early December 2016--

so earlier today i had an unexpected authentic chat with a friend who's experienced great loss in her life recently.
loss is something i unfortunately know a lot about.
dad passed away in a car accident when i was 13.
my only sibling (and life pattern-maker) moved on to the next thing a little over a couple of years ago.
this conversation i was fortunate enough to be a part of reminded me of a project i want to move on soon--tentatively titled "Rubbing Gravy on Emotional Wounds and Other Stories"--it would/will be a collection of essays about loss and wisdom and humor.
talking to this friend today reminded me of a funny exchange that happened while my mom and i completed the daunting task of picking out my sister Nefeterius' headstone.
now, mind you, i'm not the superstitious type--but the whole idea that bad things come in threes is very applicable to that time of my life. in a flash my sister died, i decided to leave my ex-husband and subsequently found myself in an unexpected custody battle...in a foreign country.
but here's just a little exchange that i shared with my grieving (and growing) friend today. i'm sharing it here because i've learned to follow instinct, and think maybe it could help someone going through a rough patch to find the humor and whimsy in it all...
so my mom and i were at the funeral home in texas with whom i suppose is the assistant director or something...
Him: Ms. McPherson (my mom), so you'd picked out the plot next to your husband for yourself, so I was thinking perhaps we could put your daughter there instead.
My mom: (nods solemnly)
Me: (to my mom) Well then where are you gonna go? Not that you're ever going. No one else is allowed to die, dammit. No one else better freaking die...
My mom: Oh honey I'm not going anywhere...
Him: Well you know we can dig the plot deeper for your husband, where he's already at rest, and place you on top.
Me: ...
My mom: Oh really?
Him: Sure, yes, we can do it for the other plot as well, where your daughter will now be.
My mom: Oh that won't be necessary...who would go there?
Me: ME!
My mom: Really?
Me: Are you kidding me?! See this is what I MEAN! You always think about Nappy! Never about me!
My mom: Oh Tammy, I just, you know...you're married.
Her: ...
Me: ...
we both burst out laughing
Me: Dig the plot, just in case. You're not gonna have my soul roaming around plotless. No sir. But nobody else is freaking dying. Nobody else is allowed to die.

From late December 2016

Musings from the backseat...
So my mom told me a story a couple of days ago that's PERFECT for the book on the hilarity of grief I'm writing tentatively titled Rubbing Gravy on Emotional Wounds and other Sad Stories.
She recently contacted a friend of hers who's in his 80s and recently lost his wife of over fifty years. She rang and he didn't answer so his answering machine (to his home phone) picked up and played his voice delivering the most magnificent and efficient PSA:
"This is __________. I've made some changes in my life. Please leave your name, your number, and I'll do my best to call you back. If I don't call you back, that means you are one of the changes."
Y'all. I can't tell you how much I love that.
I ain't even waiting til 2017 to prune and weed my garden so that what needs to bloom and grow and multiply can do so easily.
No apologies ever need to be made for setting healthy boundaries.

Sometimes I get asked what my secret to completing so many different creative projects is, and I answer, you just have to start. For me, once the cover of a book is complete, I feel a real sense of accomplishment and there's no telling me that I'm not well on my way to making magic.

This project is no different.

Yesterday I reached out to one of the three illustrators with whom I work regularly, Federico Fabiani, to see if he could work on the cover for this book for me. The thing is, I really like quick turn around. I know they say good things take time, and I agree with that theoretically-- but I really like a badabing badaboom effect when it comes to collaborating on creative projects.

Federico did not disappoint. This morning this arrived in my inbox--

My first thought was, "Damn! I don't know what kinda font this is but it's incredible!"

Federico joked via text that his kitchen smelled weird, and then it all started coming together for me. Did this guy actually, like, use GRAVY?!

I asked for clarity.

He sent pics--

This man whipped up some vegetarian gravy, then stuck a syringe in it

And wrote out the title

I adore the splatter
He rewrote the title to make it look a bit more polished

And here we have it--
An incredibly creative and fun
and whimsical
and wonderful
and effective
cover for my first book
for adults.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

So now we're on the way
Because this is more than a great start
to what I'm hoping and praying
will be a bestseller
in the self-help section
or wherever they put the books
that are meant to make you
connect, reflect & laugh.

K is for Kahlo is HERE! Our 9th Published Book!

I'm a sucker for a solid concept and great art that brings it to life.

For a couple of years I've had the idea to create an alphabet book for kids (and adults who are into incredible art) based on notable multicultural artists from around the world. Last month while discussing some other projects with Howell Edwards Creative, who have illustrated six other books for The English Schoolhouse, I happened to just mention this idea I'd put waaaaay at the end of my 'to do one day' list. Phil, who's the creative director for the graphic design company, replied "Let's do that now!" And a month and some change later, here we are...published.

And here's the back cover of the book.
Cool, right?

Of the nine books The English Schoolhouse offers, this is definitely a favorite. I enjoy the idea of it being a sweet love note and nod to my favorite artist, Frida Kahlo, and that Phil's art aesthetic is so simple and genius and color-rich that it'll make readers (I hope) eager to turn the page, and then reread again and again. It's not dedicated completely to Frida--inside readers take an artistic tour of the abc's--B is for Basquiat & P is for Picasso...even my dear friend and a master Italian painter with whom I collaborate often, Elena Tommasi Ferroni, is featured as letter T.

Recently an editor at a major publishing house who caught a glimpse of the book while it was still in the making succinctly commented, "I *love* seeing artists of various races, ethnicities, and genders represented here. Not all great artists were dead white men, although that's what one might think strolling around many museums."


Readers can expect to find familiar monikers as well as some names they might not be familiar with, like the African-American/Native American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, whose brilliant talent led her to achieve fame and fortune nearly a century ago in Rome, Italy. (I happen to live just on the same street as the studio where she was an understudy and have coffee at the museum/bar nearly every morning--Canova Tadolini.

Have a look at the list of artists featured on this cool poster Howell Edwards whipped up and see if you can spot your favorite artist, as well as a few you might want to learn more about.

And if you love what you've seen so far, you can purchase K is for Kahlo here--
all orders placed through The English Schoolhouse before August 25 will be signed by the author, me.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed creating it.

K is for Kahlo - a new abc book is on the way!

I think my affinity for remixing the alphabet comes from many years of teaching the abc's to Kindergarteners as an early childhood teacher. I used to love hearing my five and six-year-old students' alternative ideas to A is for Apple and B is for Ball.

I've got 3.5 kids of my own now. Noah, age 8, Milo, age 5, Zen who'll turn a year old on the 11th of July, and this new baby who's set to come in November. The Italian Kindergarten Milo attends isn't quite as academically attentive as what I'd hoped it would be, so I do a lot of supplementing at home. Now that it's summertime, we're really gonna be hitting the alphabet hard.

I really like using the abc's as a tool to introduce kids to different concepts within a familiar framework. I've done cities around the world in M is for Marrakech:

And hairstyles in M is for Mohawk (with a distinct message about diversity as well)

And dance moves around the globe in B is for Breakdancing:

Art has become an increasingly important staple in my life in recent years. 
What better way to introduce kids to notable artists from around the world than through the alphabet?

So K is absolutely for my favorite Frida--

And here's a sneak peek and the first few letters:

And in case you're wondering what genius artist is behind the illustrations--
H is for Howell Edwards Creative.

I think I'll have this beauty published by next month.

Fatou and the Kora - Our Newest Published Story

What can I say about this story?
I guess to begin I can say it's the eighth story from The English Schoolhouse, my little boutique cupcake of a love place where I publish all the books and stories that I believe should be shared. I've only been writing and publishing professionally for a little over two years now. The Ghanaian Goldilocks, my first story, came out in July of 2014.

Fatou and the Kora takes place in West Africa as well--in a place full of beauty and wonder called Dakar, Senegal. As a writer and a publisher, I feel very drawn to stories that accurately represent the Diaspora. I like to honor the ancestors before and within me who surely had thousands of beautiful stories to share, but were not given the opportunity to do so in written form...or whom chose not to because many of the traditional West African stories and tales are shared orally.

In this story, the main character, Fatou, is a griot--or a generational oral storyteller. It's her gift...a fact that proves to be a bit problematic, as girls in her region of the country are not permitted to play the kora.

In my real life, the kora (or the African harp) is a staple in my existence. I adore it.
I first heard the kora played on the streets of Rome by a griot named Madya Diebate. 

By stopping and listening to him, and beginning a conversation, I found a very good lifelong friend named Silvia Balossi Restelli, who has traveled to Senegal with Madya as his student and is also very gifted with the instrument.

Silvia in my bedroom in Rome about to tune the kora
 a few days after I gave birth

Two years later both Madya and Silvia are staples in my life and my heart and our home. 
Madya comes to play the kora for my audiobooks, or when I have the blues, or when I have an idea knocking on my imagination's door that needs a little extra nudge to be pulled gently into reality. Silvia drops by whenever she can to sing and chant for our new baby Zen, and tune the kora--

What gifts.

Of course the story wouldn't be what it has become without the gorgeous art of master Italian painter Elena Tommasi Ferroni...

She took the inspiration of such a gorgeous location and culture and people--

Madya's family in Senegal

And visually translated it into breathtaking accurate high art that fits the story like a glove--

Art prints are available via my online art gallery, The Nef Gallery. If you're interested in an original or a print, you can email info@theenglishschoolhouse.com.

And just because projects this beautiful always contain a bit of magic.
Here in Rome, a very lovely man by the name of Moussa, works at a store just under my home. It just so happens that the father in Fatou and the Kora is named Moussa.

Looks a bit like Madya, right?

So a few weeks ago Moussa and I were chit-chatting outside about the project and when he could stop by my house for a minute or two as he'd graciously agreed to lend his voice to the audiobook for Fatou and the Kora. 

While we were talking and trying to decide on a day, a smart car pulls up and the driver hops out and begins making small talk. People are stopping and starting to take photos. Moussa asked him for a picture and I took it--

Once the man left I turned to Moussa and asked, "Who was that?"
To which Moussa replied, "I can't believe I got a photo of him!"

So all that must mean that the universe loves this book, right?
I hope you do too.
I certainly do.

Enjoy the audiobook for Fatou and the Kora here--

And of course you can purchase your copy of the book via The English Schoolhouse's website--

If you enjoy the work, it'd be lovely for you to share it.
Thank you.

All the whimsy and wonder and beauty and grace