Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review #15: The High Skies Adentures of Blue Jay the Pirate

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review features a rollicking novel called The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash.  If you hadn't guessed from my own WIP manuscript, Pirate Ferret, I'm a huge fan of swashbuckling adventures.  Pirate stories are even better when animals are the main characters, so I was very excited to read Nash's buccaneer book.  Here's the summary blurb:

Captain Blue Jay, notorious and feared pirate of the skies, has a fondness for collecting treasure, especially eggs. Unfortunately, sometimes his treasure hatches, and this time the hatchling is the strangest one the Grosbeak has ever seen. No sailor is certain whether the chick is a young god or just an oversized bird who needs too much food, but one thing is clear: the winds over Thrushland are shifting, and dramatic changes are in store for all. 

Whether outwitting a gang of thieving crows, outrunning murderous fishers and weasels, or rallying Briarloch’s beleaguered sparrows, this motley crew must do all they can to stay together and stay alive. And that’s just the tip of the bird’s feather! Offering a bounty of illustrations and a host of memorable characters — from an endearing star-nosed mole to an unlikely little warrior with a vendetta — here is a treasure for anyone who has ever wanted to take to the skies and see where fortune blows.

This is a fun and exciting read, full of lovable cutthroat characters and a good dose of humor.  While there are many aspects I loved about this book, I most admired Nash's world-building techniques as well as his delightful illustrations.

The concept of pirate birds pillaging the skies allowed Nash to create his own unique world full of avian culture.  A lot of topics are cleverly addressed, from how ships can sail through the air to what sort of weapons birds would use for fighting and plundering.  You can tell that Nash put a lot of thought into carefully crafting each detail that makes up this fantasy bird world, including foods, gods, treasures, clothes, enemies, friends, superstitions, medical remedies, and everything in between.  Even the exclamations and insults are a perfect mix of "pirate" and "bird," resulting in some giggle-worthy phrases like, "Shaddup, ya beetle-head or I'll crack yer beak in two!"  This careful attention to details and word-choices is so important in creating a fantasy world that readers will love from page one to "The End."      

An example of Nash's beautiful illustrations.

To paint an even clearer picture of this fantasy world, Nash also incorporates many illustrations in Blue Jay the Pirate.  Illustrations aren't standard in middle grade books, and there seems to be a lot of debate on whether or not they are necessary in novels for this age group.  In this instance, Nash's wonderful illustrations add a lot to the story.  With their pen and ink style and minimal colors, they look just like they belong alongside classic swashbuckling stories like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe.  While this book could certainly stand alone without the illustrations, the maps, characters, and scenes Nash depicts compliment the words perfectly, giving the story a new depth and extra-piratey feel.

If you're a fan of pirate tales and treasure hunts, then Blue Jay the Pirate is a jolly good book for you.  If you write animal fantasy, this is a dandy book to study and one you'll have a hard time putting down, too.  And if you are an illustrator, this is a superb book to see how well illustrations can compliment a novel-length story.  In short: should you read this book?  Aye!

You can find out more about Scott Nash and Captain Blue Jay on his website at:

And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)

Happy reading!

Note: The summary blurb and cover picture are from Goodreads; the illustration is from Nash's website, noted above.  The cover art and illustration are both (c) Scott Nash. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Zelda Calendar Contest 2012

You know how I said I had some very late news to post?  Well, this is it!

On November 30th, my entry was due for the 2nd Annual Legend of Zelda Calendar Contest hosted by the History of Hyrule.  Unfortunately, my mom was sick in the hospital all that week prior.  I considered dropping out of the contest, but did my best to try to finish my piece when I wasn't with her.  (Including a large amount of time when I probably should have been sleeping...)  I turned it in a whopping two hours before the deadline, but hey--at least I made it! 

This year's theme was "The History of Hyrule" focusing on historic events in the Zelda games.  Here is what I came up with:

Jump horsey, jump!

And here is my contest blurb:  In order to complete his quest, Link must travel to the Spirit Temple.  But time has destroyed the Gerudo Bridge.  The canyon yawns like the maw of a beast as Link stands on the precipice.  Epona stamps her hooves beneath him, tossing her head as she gathers courage.  Link takes a deep breath, sends a prayer to the three goddesses, and gallops towards his destiny.  

If you're not familiar with the Zelda games, this is a scene from "Ocarina of Time," and one of my favorite parts.  I tried to depict the scene as I imagined it when I first played Zelda--a massive desert, skeletal bridge, and colossal canyon that somehow Link and Epona had to leap over despite all odds. 

I'm pretty happy with how this turned out, and really stepped out of my comfort zone. This was my first time painting: a canyon, rock formations, a sword, a front-view galloping horse, a rider, tack, sand, dust, ropes, and a perspective like this. (This totally counts as my one human-drawing for the year, too!)  I also used a few textures for the sand and rocks, which I've never tried before.  I really had fun with the color-scheme in this piece and was inspired by pictures of Monument Valley for the background.  I'm not too thrilled with the finished canyon, but it was my first attempt at drawing one, so now I know what to do better next time. (At least I got over my fear of painting rocks!)

Surprisingly, that little shadow of Link and Epona was by far one of the trickiest parts of this piece.  (Front view characters + strong side-lighting = one difficult shadow!)  And for any Zelda fans reading this, you may just find your favorite fairy-obsessed fellow hidden in the background...

As I said before, this is a rather delayed post.  I already found out that my piece did not make it into the final 2013 calendar, but I really don't mind.  This was a FANTASTIC learning experience, and with everything else going on at the time, I'm just happy I finished it.  You can see the superb winning pieces here: historyofhyrule.blogspot.  (The official calendar can be downloaded for FREE at the link, and you can also create one with your favorite entries, too!)  The winning pieces definitely give me something to aspire to next year!

If you want to see how I've improved as a digital artist, you can see my last year's entry here.  Comparing them makes me feel pretty good about my progress over the past twelve months.  

A big thanks to Melora who hosts the event at History of Hyrule.  She is one of the nicest artists I've met and puts so much time into this project.  I can't wait to see what next year's theme will be!  :)

Note: Link, Epona, and the Legend of Zelda are (c) Nintendo.  This is just my humble homage to them.  All references for this piece are credited on my deviantArt page here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  I truly appreciate everyone's support and kindness that you've shown me over the year.  This blog truly wouldn't exist if it wasn't for your nice comments and loyal reading! 

I hope everyone has a lovely holiday with their family and friends.  :)



Saturday, December 8, 2012

December Update

I'm sorry to say it's been a little quiet around here recently.  Unfortunately, life has been rather chaotic these past few weeks.  My mom had a big health scare, so I've spent lots of my time at the hospital and helping out.  I'm really behind in everything, but that's okay.  She's getting better now, and that's really all that matters.
As such, I've had to re-think some things around here.  I missed my November Animal Fantasy Book Review, so I'll just post it for December.  (I don't think anyone will mind if I'm one month off.)  I also have some various things to post that are late-news at this point, but I figure late is better than never!
I also can't believe it's already December!  (Seriously, where did 2012 go?!)  In some ways, this bums me out.  These last few months have been so crazy and unpredictable that I feel like I'm really behind in my life.  There are lots of projects, revisions, and submissions I wanted to accomplish, but now they may just wait until 2013. 
I usually swear an oath at this point of the year that I'm going to enjoy Christmas OR ELSE.  It never really works, so instead, I'm just going make it my goal to roll with the punches for the rest of 2012.  If we don't put up a Christmas tree, it's no big deal.  If Christmas cards go out on December 24, that's okay.  And if the family wants to bake cookies or see Zoo Lights or watch The Night They Saved Christmas for the billionith time, than I'm just going to drop what I'm doing and join in.  Being together is more important than answering emails, running errands, and even submitting Pirate Ferret to that dream agent.  I'm going to try my best to make this my Zen Christmas--one without expectations and plenty of wiggle-room for whatever comes my way.
I hope the season isn't finding you overly-stressed!  (Maybe we should all just take a deep breath and go drink some hot chocolate for ten minutes...)     
Note: Clip art is from Google Images.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

COSCBWI November 2012: Year-End Celebration

November's COSCBWI meeting was a gathering to celebrate our published members. Authors Nancy Roe Pimm and Amelia Shearer and illustrator, Nikki Boetger, were the showcased members. They told their inspiring success stories and shared their books with us. Each member found a completely different route to publication, and it's always so heartening to hear there are many ways to break into the business. (Just like there's no wrong way to eat a Reese's.)

With drinks and desserts in hand, we then shared as a group everyone's writing and illustration goals for the end of the year. Many of the members are getting ready to submit to Kristin Ostby after attending the COSCBWI Fall Workshop a few weeks ago. Some are blazing their way through NANOWRIMO, and others are just dipping their toes into the world of children's writing by attending their first COSCBWI meeting. I wish everyone the best of luck as they pursue their year-end goals! :)

This was the last monthly meeting for 2012. We're currently planning an exciting schedule of meetings for 2013, and our Regional Advisor, Linda Miller, would love to hear any input from our loyal members. Feel free to email her at, or drop a message on our new Facebook page at (You can even leave a comment here and I'll be sure it gets to her!) Thanks for helping us have a successful year!

Happy (early) Holidays! I look forward to seeing the COSCBWI gang again in 2013!