AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL (1 OF 5)
It was a real pleasure interviewing Amy Krouse Rosenthal, an author and filmmaker who’s built a loyal following through her many books and videos. Amy is a true Renaissance woman and a clever, creative purveyor of wisdom, wonder and whimsy. She is a maker of movements and creator of community. I find her fresh ideas and light-hearted, good-natured videos tremendously appealing.
Amy’s latest project with Chicago Public Radio is MISSion Amy K.R., for which she creates an interactive mission every week. Amy’s children’s books were featured in a profile piece in the New York Times and her book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, was named by Amazon as one of the top ten memoirs of the decade. Amy lives with her husband and three children in Chicago.
After our five-part video interview, you’ll find a bunch of Amy’s very brief videos, the text of some national feature articles about Amy and an assortment of other treasures.
A VERY SAD UPDATE (3/05/17): In this essay in The New York Times, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” Amy reveals that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in September and has mere days remaining on this earth. This tragedy however, in no way dimmed her wit, wisdom and whimsical view of the world.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal passed away on March 13, 2017. Her life and work were celebrated in the New York Times here.
Click here to visit Amy’s website.
Amy’s follow-up memoir is entitled Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL (2 OF 5)
AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL (3 OF 5)
AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL (4 OF 5)
AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL (5 OF 5)
Here is a twenty-two-minute video of the presentation Amy gave at the TEDx conference in Waterloo, Ontario on February 25, 2010 called the “7 Notes of Life.” According to the TEDx YouTube channel:
In the spirit of “Ideas Worth Spreading,” TEDx is a program that enables schools, businesses, libraries or just groups of friends to enjoy a TED-like experience through events they themselves organize, design and host. We’re supporting approved organizers by offering a free toolkit that includes detailed advice, the right to use recorded TEDTalks, promotion on our site, connection to other organizers, and a little piece of our brand in the form of the TEDx label.
HERE ARE SOME OF AMY’S VIDEOS
Amy’s mini-movies are a blend of innocence and wisdom with a generous helping of whimsy and a big dollop of sweetness mixed in.
KINDNESS THOUGHT BUBBLE
17 THINGS I MADE
THE BECKONING OF LOVELY (8/08/08)
THE BECKONING OF LOVELY (9/09/09)
DRAWING CONCLUSIONS (1 OF 3)
DRAWING CONCLUSIONS (2 OF 3)
DRAWING CONCLUSIONS (3 OF 3)
THE MONEY TREE
This best-seller is a one-of-a-kind pregnancy journal. Before you get to meet your baby, you spend a swell (so to speak) nine months getting acquainted with your growing belly. The first pregnancy journal devoted 100% to you and your belly, The Belly Book is organized by trimester and includes pages for “time-lapse” belly photos and ultrasound images, as well as prompts for writing about food cravings, maternity clothes you never want to see again, and much more.
HAPPY TO BE ME . . . OR ME!
The writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal has published 11 picture books since 2005. Four of those 11 made their debut between February and May of this year, a rate of one a month. But before I tell you how terrific they all are, I should note that according to Rosenthal’s Web site, she has another six slated for release in 2010 and 2011 — a mere three per year. Is she resting on her laurels?
“Maybe one day I’ll turn into a ballet dancer, I don’t know. But writing is the only thing that makes sense for me,” Rosenthal, now in her early 40s, told her hometown Chicago Tribune in 2004, back when she was merely a successful author of books for adults (notably the memoir Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, a cross between Jean Kerr and Dave Eggers), an online columnist and the host of a Chicago Public Radio program, the ironically named “Writers’ Block Party.” “I don’t know how to stop,” she said of writing. “I don’t know how not to do it. If I see something interesting, it’s hard for me not to take a note or scribble something down on the palm of my hand.” (I know how not to write: Amy, haven’t you heard of suddenly needing to look up old girlfriends or boyfriends on Facebook?)
Is there something about children’s books that attracts the prolific, or at least the nonprocrastinating? By some measures, Rosenthal is an absolute slacker. The estimable Dan Gutman (“Jackie & Me,” “The Homework Machine”) has knocked out more than 50 books since 2000, while the equally estimable Andrew Clements (“Frindle,” “Lunch Money”) has at least 40 to his credit over the same period, with three more due this year. Neither author, judging from my haphazard readings of their work, has issues with quality control. Maybe writing for children unleashes the energy and uncomplicated eagerness of youth. Maybe it dispels grown-up emotions like despair, self-loathing and Amazon-sales-rank-envy that can stunt the output of writers for mature audiences. The fact that the average children’s book is quite a bit more slender than, say, some Robert Caro doorstop no doubt aids productivity: any single volume of Caro’s three-volume-and-counting Lyndon Johnson biography would probably contain enough words to fill up thousands of children’s books, if you could write a children’s book with the word “cloture” in it that anyone would want to read.
Maybe kids’ book writers simply have more fun. That certainly seems to be the case with Rosenthal. For all I know, she may suffer torment upon torment in front of a blank screen, but the results read as if they were a pleasure to write. Her books radiate fun the way tulips radiate spring: they are elegant and spirit-lifting. Among her gifts is an ability to take what in other hands could have been a thin premise — a piglet who hates being messy, in the case of Little Oink; a young spoon who wishes he was a fork or a knife or chopsticks, in Spoon — and wring all kinds of sly, nifty variations out of it, the way Buster Keaton could choreograph a comic ballet around a simple prop or set-up. Better yet, her jokes sing with specificity and an understanding of children.
Take poor Little Oink. All he wants is to be tidy. He digs for truffles with a spade and brings knife, fork and bib to the trough; that’s how filth-averse he is. “All my friends get to clean their rooms,” he whines to his parents. “Why can’t I?” Well, what red-blooded 5-year-old isn’t going to crack up hearing that? Little Oink tries his best to mess up his room, to be a good pig, but his father remonstrates: “I still see toys in their bin, mister.” At last, a hero who serves as both surrogate id and role model. The book is a sequel of sorts to “Little Pea,” about a young pea who wishes he didn’t have to eat candy for dinner, and “Little Hoot,” about a young owl who wishes he could go to bed early — a Bizarro World trilogy for kids, all three elevated further by Jen Corace’s droll, fine-tuned illustrations.
There are probably a million children’s books (half of them written by Jamie Lee Curtis) about learning how to be happy with oneself, finding one’s inner strengths, etc., etc. (and another half-million animated features exploring more or less the same terrain), but I’m pretty sure no one before Rosenthal thought to approach this perennial from the point of view of a utensil. Spoon, my favorite of the quartet under consideration here, could almost be read as a sweet, subtle parody of the genre, but better yet it should just be read. The title character wishes he could cut or stab like his pals Knife and Fork, or be exotic like his twin buddies Chopsticks, but as his mom points out: “You know, Spoon — I wonder if you realize just how lucky you are. Your friends will never know the joy of diving headfirst into a bowl of ice cream. They’ll never know what it feels like to clink against the side of a cereal bowl. They’ll never be able to twirl around in a mug, or relax in a hot cup of tea.” For Spoon, this does the trick. “His mind was racing,” Rosenthal writes, “he felt so alive!”
I love that line: so joyous and yet, for a kids’ book, so relatively mordant, or even kind of heartbreaking, spoons being inanimate and all. Scott Magoon’s witty drawings get the tone just right. It couldn’t have been easy: you try drawing a winsome spoon.
Duck! Rabbit! and Yes Day! represent Rosenthal’s third and fourth collaborations (ever; not just this week) with the illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. Yes Day! tells what happens on a new holiday, when parents must say yes to every request. Happily, this is not a cautionary tale, and as with all of Rosenthal and Lichtenheld’s books, the endpapers have some of the best jokes. As for the wonderful Duck! Rabbit! it is the funniest children’s book ever based on a 19th-century-style optical illusion (or more properly, the Internet tells me, “ambiguous figure”). I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m damning the book with faint praise: it’s funny by any standard. The title character — whose bunny ears can be mistaken for a duck’s bill, or vice versa, depending on how you choose to perceive things — generates a very amusing debate between two unseen observers, who finally bury the hatchet only to stumble across an anteater whose long tail could be mistaken for a brachiosaurus’s neck, or, again, vice versa.
Not only is Duck! Rabbit! a good laugh, it’s also a public service: ambiguity is an underrated state, and the sooner children are introduced to it the better. I look forward to “Hag! Hottie!” and “Wineglass! Couple About to Kiss!”
NOTE: In case you’re wondering what Bruce Handy is talking about in his final sentence, at left and below are the optical illusions he’s referring to.
HOW A LOVELY LADY WITH A YELLOW UMBRELLA WILL MAKE YOU SMILE
Just who is Amy Krouse Rosenthal? While Amy fits under many titles — artist, filmmaker, author — I know her as the-out-of-the-box lovely lady with the yellow umbrella, who created a movement that brought folks together through her creativity and made me smile. Amy inspires me to inspire you to create something that makes people in your life smile, laugh and connect. So get off your Facebook and Twitter just for a minute, and check out Amy’s videos below.
When I created my inspirational website, Go Inspire Go, after being laid off from my TV reporting gig, I set out to inspire people to discover their power and use it to help others. I never would’ve imagined that job offers, new friendships and invaluable new experiences would forge from my altruistic mission to give back through my resources and talents.
Thank you, Am,y for using your talents to create community, curiosity and elevate humanity.
I don’t want to spill the beans on the lovely movement she’s created; you’ll just have to watch for yourself.
Her project, The Beckoning of Lovely, began with a spontaneous public gathering of strangers and friends new and old. It goes to show how the power of one could inspire others to gather and connect and create something, anything that makes you feel good, warm and fuzzy. This inspires me to think about how I can continue using my power to spread the inspiration. I hope it nudges you, tickles you, inspires you to think about what you can do, however small or large, to make someone else’s life better!
The Beckoning of Lovely has since evolved into an expanding film project involving hundreds of strangers from around the world. Go Amy Go!
AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL: PUTTING ALL HER BOOKS UNDER A YELLOW UMBRELLA
What a year Amy Krouse Rosenthal had in 2009. First, with four children’s books published that spring, Rosenthal got the coveted invite to be a breakfast speaker at BookExpo America; then, on Mother’s Day, the New York Times printed a glowing review of all four of her new titles, Duck! Rabbit! and Little Oink (Chronicle), Spoon (Hyperion), and Yes Day! (HarperCollins); and she hit the New York Times list for Duck! Rabbit! May 24—staying on for weeks and re-emerging later in the summer.
But for all of her success with children’s books, Rosenthal was not always recognized as the author of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (Crown/Three Rivers), which was supported by independent booksellers across the country and named an Amazon best memoir in 2005. She is also the author of The Belly Book and Your Birthday Book (Clarkson Potter), plus pregnancy/motherhood/child journals and the recently released Bedtime for Mommy (Bloomsbury), which combined several of her interests into one work. In addition, Rosenthal is a blogger and has become known as Amy K.R. to fans of her Mission Amy K.R. blog.
While her writing may seem all over the map, the theme of making the most out of your days and sharing that with those you love permeates her books, blogs, and videos projects. So Rosenthal and agent Amy Rennert wondered if there was a way to bring all of her books under one brand—a yellow umbrella. “People who knew her from Little Pea and the children’s books did not know about the memoir or the journals or videos,” Rennert told PW. “While her publishers provided tremendous support, we wondered if we could do more to brand Amy K.R. books.”
The idea for the yellow umbrella goes back to the 2008 viral video The Beckoning of Lovely that Rosenthal started with a YouTube post, in which she invited strangers to come and make something creative together with the woman (Rosenthal) holding a yellow umbrella in a Chicago Park on 08/08/08. Hundreds showed up, and thousands still send in creative contributions, which Rosenthal will edit into a film called The Beckoning of Lovely, set to make its theatrical debut next year on 11/11/11.
To corral such varied creative endeavors, author and agent formed Team Amy, joining forces with freelance publicist Sarah Burningham and marketing consultant Chris Boral at Rosenthal’s expense. Since coming together last fall, the team brainstorms weekly, and just as Rosenthal’s 25 books and journals passed the million-unit sales mark in April, it unrolled the Yellow Umbrella retail program, announcing it in an ad in the New York Times Book Review with the support of all five publishers. Under the program, more than a dozen independents across the country have set up displays with a variety of Rosenthal’s books under a yellow umbrella, supported by marketing materials (including the yellow umbrella and yellow umbrella stickers for all the books) provided by Team Amy (again at the author’s expense).
Burningham said Rosenthal’s publishers and the booksellers who helped launch and build the author’s career quickly got on board. Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., was one of the first booksellers to pop open its Yellow Umbrella display. “Amy’s creativity goes beyond writing and publishing engaging books of all kinds,” said store owner Elaine Pettrocelli. “She thinks about how to help booksellers give their customers more. And as my six grandchildren will tell you, her books are really fun.” Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books in Kansas City, Kans. (whose grandson is also a fan), said when the author recently did an event for The Wonder Book (HarperCollins), the store didn’t need much convincing to feature brand Amy K.R. under its Yellow Umbrella. “In this very embattled industry, she has this perfect spirit of ‘let’s all work together,’ ” said Jennings. “Amy wants to know what she can do for you.”
“It’s very cliché, but she is a big picture thinker,” said Victoria Rock, Rosenthal’s editor at Chronicle. She said Rosenthal thinks both intellectually and intuitively about the author’s role in publishing and promotion. “It’s exciting to watch what she does,” Rock continued. “I think all authors should watch what she does.”
Here is a nice article by Jeff Ruby from the November 2010 issue of Chicago Magazine:
AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL READIES ‘BECKONING OF LOVELY’ PROJECT
PROJECT WARM FUZZY: A local writer and optimist-about-town readies her feel-good masterpiece
There comes a moment in every columnist’s career when he writes the inevitable Time Is Precious story, the kind of blatant treacle he secretly hopes readers will stick on their refrigerators. The sudden death of a loved one usually triggers the column, thick with breathless prose about how the clock is ticking and we should grab life with both hands.
This is not that column. I feared it would be when I met Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a dynamic Lake View resident who says things like: “What are you doing? Not just with your life—what are you going to do with your day?” Her philosophy is simple: Make the most of your time here. But to use Rosenthal as a springboard for carpe diem platitudes only belittles what she has done with her own life. Former copywriter for Foote, Cone & Belding. Best-selling author of 18 (and counting) books for children and adults. Host of a variety show on WBEZ. Mother to three teenagers. When she’s not writing or driving to soccer practice, she does exactly what she wants, which at the moment involves connecting strangers through quirky acts of humanity.
In the past year, Rosenthal has taped uplifting notes to ATMs, left chocolate treats on random porches (“Hostess Ding Dong ditching”), hung 100 one-dollar bills from a tree along Southport Avenue, and led a hootenanny on a Brown Line train—all of which she filmed and posted as irresistible videos on whoisamy.com. “Some label them social experiments, but I don’t have a grand agenda,” says Rosenthal, 45. “I do what feels right to me. If it resonates or plants some seeds, great.” Remember Fight Club, when Brad Pitt and Edward Norton trained an army for Project Mayhem, a plot to destroy civilization through acts of senseless violence? This is Project Mayhem in reverse. Call it Project Warm Fuzzy.
Rosenthal’s masterpiece, unfolding over the past two years, began with a YouTube video called “17 Things I Made.” In it, she invited viewers to meet her on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08), at 8:08 p.m. in Millennium Park to make an 18th thing together. That thing was a party. She expected a group of maybe 30, but roughly 400 curious people showed up, surprised to find themselves singing, dancing, blowing bubbles, and giving flowers to strangers. One couple met and fell in love. “I wish there was a word less obvious than ‘magical’ to describe that night,” Rosenthal says. “It was meaningful to everyone in some way.”
A video about the evening, “The Beckoning of Lovely,” urged viewers to send Rosenthal their own photography, poems, music, art, and films. More than 500 submissions arrived from all corners of the globe. The plan is to edit the 70 loveliest into a feature film and release it on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11; visit thebeckoningoflovely.com for updates). “I want it to be the best thing you’ve ever seen in your life,” says Rosenthal, half kidding. (OK, maybe one-third kidding.) “I want people to be moved to live how they want to live.” (One-eighth kidding.) At presstime, she had a related event planned for October 10th (10/10/10) in Millennium Park—something big involving Redmoon Theater—but she refused to divulge specifics.
The cynic might ask, “What’s the point of all this?” A valid question—but one with no real answer. Rosenthal doesn’t care whether you find her stunts to be self-indulgent gimmicks or deeply profound happenings; she simply needs a channel for her constant flow of ideas. The periodic inspiring letter from, say, a guy living on a submarine is just a bonus.
Even if you’re not the type to look for meaning in your everyday life, Rosenthal’s videos serve as a gentle reminder to be nice. Slow down. Make things. Play. Say “I love you” and “I’m sorry.” And do it now because . . . well, you know. “Being alive is a good thing,” Rosenthal says. “Too bad it has to end.” Thank you, Amy, for not making me say it.
Click here to see all the video and audio interviews I’ve conducted.
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SEE EVERY MOMENT AS A GIFT
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