Traveling through History

Since I do a lot of historic and multicultural illustration, I like to get a little taste of history now and then. So, I jumped at the chance to spend the day with a friend and tour Great Road in northern Rhode Island,  touted as America's first "Super Highway."

The tour, organized by

Tour Rhode Island

,  ran like clockwork, and the guides were top-notch.  We saw the Eleazer

Arnold House

, a "stone ender" built in 1693, the oldest home in Lincoln, RI.

The stone of the "stone-ender" has been covered with a lime slurry, true to the time period.

The caretakers have taken this house back to it's original form, leaded windows and all.

Hearthside House was a special  treat, with costumed docents in every room to tell us the sad and romantic story behind this 1810 fieldstone home.

Our docent, Estelle, jumped at the chance to portray the African-American woman who worked for the Talbot's, and lived with her husband on the third floor. We heard that cooks gauged the temperature by how long they could stand to hold their arm above a fire.

Later residents of Hearthside had an African-American couple who worked for them and lived in the house.

Looms original to the house have just been brought back from a museum in Lowell.


Thirteen children are currently training to be docents at Hearthside.

The fellow in the foreground did a great job.


 The clothes were amazing. This little boys outfit was from the time period when the middle class began to emerge. Children went from being dressed as little adults, to little sailors. Everything, of course, is hand stitched.

A boy's jacket.

This one made me drool.

A close-up showing hand-embroidery, including straw and horsehair.

 We also saw a working blacksmith shop (

Hannaway Blacksmith Shop

, built in 1880), with a woman working the bellows, the

Saylesville Friends Meeting House

, in continuous use since 1704, and a museum about the Blackstone Canal housed in the Captain Wilbur Kelly House.

Captain Kelly was a sea captain on a ship with a name familiar to Rhode Islanders, the Ann & Hope. Mill owners invested in a canal that was built from Providence to Wooster. It ran from 1828 until 1848, when the new transportation craze, the train, put it out of business.

The Valentine Whitman house, and more incredible clothes.

The attic of the V-W house, built in 1694, and also a "stone-ender."

Thanks to my friend, Helen, for a great Cinco de Mayo!!!

RI Mock Caldecott Award

I had a great time talking about children's books with a group of Rhode Island librarians this week at a Professional Development Workshop where we discussed and voted for the Mock Caldecott Award for 2012. The event was held at the stately William  Hall library on Broad Street in Cranston.

The Caldecott Medal has been given annually since 1938 by the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association) to

the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The real Caldecott Medal will be announced in Dallas at 7:45 a.m. CT on Jan.23, 2012, along with announcements for the Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Book Award and Printz award. The books honored serve as a guide for parents, educators, and librarians. The awards are selected under a cloak of secrecy by national judging committees composed of librarians and other children’s literature experts.

Since I was giving a Powerpoint presentation about children's book design at the workshop, I delved into the criteria for this particular award. Here is my version of the criteria, condensed and simplified:

What is a "Picture book for children?"

• Children up to age 14 are an intended potential audience,

• The book displays respect for their understandings, abilities, and appreciations.

• The book provides the child with a visual experience

• It develops a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept

Criteria to consider:

Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;

Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;

Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;

Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;

Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

What makes a picture book “distinguished?”

Marked by eminence and distinction, excellence in quality.

Noted for significant achievement.

Individually distinct.

If you want to see the criteria in it's original form, along with all the Caldecott award and Honor Books for the past 75 years,

click here for the ALSC site.

A tiny sample of the books that won the Caldecott in earlier years:

2010: The Lion & the Mouse

by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown & Company)

1963: The Snowy Day

by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking)

1943: The Little House

by Virginia Lee Burton (Houghton)


With the wealth of incredible artists who create stunning visual experiences for children, and stories and characters that ranged from hilarious to profound, the choosing wasn't easy. We started with 30 titles, and voted a bit hurriedly at the end, but these were the picks for this year's Caldecott from a small group of RI librarians and illustrators.

WINNER: Grandpa Green, by Lane Smith.

To read more about the making of Grandpa Green, you'll find a wonderful article and extensive photos on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. This, by the way, is a site that children's book enthusiasts could study for weeks on end, it has such a wealth of information. To access the Lane Smith article, click here:

feature about Lane Smith and Grandpa Green

HONOR BOOK: Me... Jane, by Patrick McDonnell

This beautifully designed book tells of Jane Goodall's childhood dreams, complete with  photographs and excepts from a diary she kept.

Me... Jane, by Patrick McDonnell

HONOR BOOK: Blackout, by John Rocco

This is the story of city folks who come out of their apartments when the lights go out in New York City. With a hybrid graphic novel/picture book look, the story is essentially one of family and community.


Blackout, by John Rocco

 Here is a trailer about "Blackout."

There are so many wonderful books to choose from. Go check out a few of them on your own!

Thanks to Cheryl Space for putting together such a great event, to Wendy and Walter for coming, and to all the book-loving and insightful librarians for a fun morning.

It will be interesting to see who wins on January 23.

Illustration Friday #7: BRIGADE, and What I Learned While Researching the Black Regiment

Brigade : A military unit consisting of a variable number of combat battalions or regiments

Since I had the good fortune to work with RI author Linda Crotta Brennan on a book called The Black Regiment of the American Revolution a few years ago, I'm using one of the images from the book for the prompt "brigade." These paintings were done using traditional watercolor techniques.

I also decided to post about a few things I learned while researching this fascinating subject.

Battle of Rhode Island, Revolutionary War,  © Cheryl Kirk Noll

Battle of Rhode Island, Revolutionary War,  © Cheryl Kirk Noll

Linda Crotta Brennan gathering information at the reenactment of the Battle of RI.

Linda Crotta Brennan gathering information at the reenactment of the Battle of RI.

The book is about a RI Revolutionary War regiment that was comprised of men of color. In 1778, the Rhode Island legislature passed a law that created what was later to be called the Black regiment. "Every able-bodied Negro, mulatto, or Indian man-slave" could enlist. The state would pay owners for their slaves and those whoenlisted would be given the same "bounty and wages" as White soldiers. If they survived the war, they would earn their freedom. Close to 200 men signed up. Most of them served until the war ended.

Here are some of the things I learned. 

1. RI had slaves.

From "The Black Regiment of the American Revolution," ©Cheryl Kirk Noll

From "The Black Regiment of the American Revolution," ©Cheryl Kirk Noll

Newport was major port, and a hot spot in the slave trade. 

Some of the men who fought in the Black Regiment: Primus Brown, Cuff Greene, Jacob Hazard, Ebenezer Mumford, Prince Vaughn. From the muster rolls at the RI Historical Society

Some of the men who fought in the Black Regiment: Primus Brown, Cuff Greene, Jacob Hazard, Ebenezer Mumford, Prince Vaughn. From the muster rolls at the RI Historical Society

Rhode Island did not abolish slavery until 1784, a year after the Revolution ended. However, they didn't actually free those who were currently slaves. They freed children who were born after that date, but not until they turned a certain age; 21 for males, 18 for females. 

The last slave in Rhode Island died in 1859, just four years before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. 


2. Reenactors are knowledgeable and generous folk. 

I was incredibly lucky while researching this book to have the Battle of RI (featured in the book) reenacted in Portsmouth, RI. Over 1,000 men, women and children appeared in authentic costume, set up camp and reenacted the battle.

I talked to many of the participants, and was impressed with the amount of research they had done to be historically accurate. My illustrations were also reviewed by RI reenactors, who pointed out fine points, like the difference between tricorns and bicorns, and the importance of having straps strong enough to support heavy ammunition bags. Many, many thanks go to them.

Comments on my sketches from RI reenactors.

Comments on my sketches from RI reenactors.

 3. History is subjective.

Linda and I came across a quote about a skirmish in New York state with a group of loyalists called Delancey's Tories, where Colonel Christopher Greene was killed. It said: "the sabers of the enemy only reached him through the bodies of his faithful guard of Blacks, who hovered over him to protect him and every one of whom was killed." That quote was in dozens of books. 

I wanted to find out what the place looked like for my illustrations, so I went to the Yorktown Museum in Yorktown Heights, NY. 

They hadprimary source documents there about the skirmish. Theseincluded a loyalist newspaper account, and a documentby a woman who was a child living in the house at the time of the attack, written when she was an old woman. The accounts were different, and neither mentioned the "faithful guard...every one of whom was killed." 

It was an "aha" moment for me. We don't really know exactly what happened, and we never will.

The unit that Greene was commanding was definitely integrated. There is evidence that some black soldiers were captured and sold back into slavery. Maybe the author of the statement had additional information available, but the statement seems woven with a bit of supposition. It really made me think.

4. People of color have been full and active participants in the United States from the get-go.

This is a ridiculously simple-minded conclusion. Of course, Native Americans were here before Europeans. Long before! But did you know that by many accounts, 1 of 6 men who served in the Revolution were men of color? That Americans enslaved Native Americans in states such as RI? That there were Blacks in Jamestown in 1690? That initially slaves/servants were able to earn their way out of slavery and purchase property, but one by one, laws were passed to revoke these rights for Blacks? That eventually, laws were passed in some places to prevent owners from freeing their own slaves without getting permission from the state?

I discovered so many things that no one taught me in school. I felt amazed, a little embarrassed by my lack of knowledge, and a little angry with simplistic, white-washed educational texts.

5. Rhode Island is a spectacularly beautiful state.

A view of Aquidneck Island in RI

A view of Aquidneck Island in RI

Of course, I live here, but I really began to appreciate it when I went looking for battlefields, historic societies and armories.

"The Black Regiment of the American Revolution" is still in publication.  It is geared for readers between 8-12. It can be purchased at Apprenticeshop Books, Ltd.

Click Here

"The Black Regiment of the American Revolution," by Linda Crotta Brennan, illustrated by Cheryl Kirk Noll

The story of the men who fought for freedom, both their country's and their own, makes for fascinating reading.