Jackie Urbanovic vividly remembers the delights of childhood.
"We went out and played, and we built forts out of sticks and we rode on our bikes, and we were soldiers and we were spies, and we made up stories all day and had adventures," says the popular author and illustrator of the Max the Duck series and other books for children. "I feel there's not time for that kind of freeform thinking and storytelling today, which I think is critical to creativity, and creativity is problem-solving ... and the ability to creatively resolve problems is at the heart of the jobs today."
For four hours Saturday, children can laugh and learn with the author during the York County Libraries' Reading Rainbow program at the Byrnes Health Education Center. The day includes storytimes, fitness activities, a visit from ZooAmerica and more.
Urbanovic will kick things off with a meet-the-author presentation, and three of her animal tales will be featured reads during storytime. Humor and compassion go hand-in-hand in her work.
"The best of humor is about the most tragic of things. ... There's a sense of compassion or belonging," she says. "You don't want to tell a direct lesson. You want to entertain fully, and if you're lucky, you can also have two or three layers of depth."
Laying the foundations for such depth can be tricky in children's picture books, where the author might be limited to 32 pages and a few hundred words. Urbanovic can go through two dozen drafts to find the perfect balance.
"In a really good picture book, the art can't stand alone by itself nor can the words," she says. "Either one separate will not make full sense of the story."
Animals: In the Max the Duck series of books, Urbanovic began with the idea of a menagerie always looking to rescue another animal. The animals' guardian, Irene, was inspired by a real-life Irene with a house full of rescued critters.
"I love birds, and I love drawing birds, and I think birds are very funny to draw," Urbanovic says. "A duck migrates, so it was perfect -- if I could come up with a reason a duck would stay behind in the winter."
She did, of course, and Max now stars in half a dozen titles, including picture books and stories for beginning readers.
"It was the culmination of 30 years of waiting and working," she says of her success. "Not only all the hard work and all the patience, but also all the coincidences that happened to make it possible."
Exploration: With older children, she strives to get across the value of working hard and editing and revising ideas.
"It's the most fun part of doing the book, the adventure and seeking and juggling pieces," she says. "By the time I come down to the paintings, the creative work is just about over."
Every step along the way is essential to the process. Urbanovic explores creativity without fear, asking the wacky questions and finding the answers sometimes include a duck who loves to cook.
"Humor is irresistible to most people, and for kids, it's supremely irresistible," she says. "It's so easy to get them to laugh. That's what's so wonderful about kids: they are so willing to be totally off the wall."
Encouraging children's sense of openness and wonder can be as easy as showing them that perfection takes time -- and that the journey is often more important than the destination.
"I want them to know that there's nothing in art that is a mistake," Urbanovic says. "Art is in that way like an experimental science. You're always looking for the right answer; you don't know what the right answer is going to be."
When parents take the little ones home, incorporating more reading to them and with them is a great way to build their skills.
"They'll make up their own variations of the story while you're reading it," Urbanovic says. "It enlarges their creativity and sense of humor and understanding of the world."
-- Reach Mel Barber at email@example.com.
Meet the author
The York County Library System will host a free Reading Rainbow fun day for families from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Byrnes Health Education Center, 515 S. George St., York.
Author and illustrator Jackie Urbanovic will give a presentation. Storytimes will include her books "Duck Soup," "If You're Hoppy" and "Sitting Duck." The day also will feature a visit from ZooAmerica, fitness fun and the announcement of the "Go and Dig It Up" program grand prize winners.
For more information about the event, call (717) 846-5300 or visit www.yorklibraries.org.
For more information about Urbanovic and her books, visit www.jackieurbanovic.com.