Michael Phelps on Tonight Show

Hey Look!

In case you missed it, here's the clip of Michael Phelps on Conan O' Brian last night, where they mention How To Train With a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals. They don't talk about the book until about the 4:15 mark.

As typical of such situations, the illustrator is not mentioned, but that's okay with me. I'm happy that the book is getting some press!


Watch Conan Tonight

How To Train With a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals

Michael Phelps will be appearing tonight on the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brian. He'll be plugging some crazy kid's book titled How To Train With a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals. Not sure if you've heard about it. Yeah, some yayhoo artist illustrated it. He lives in Portland, and since that's on the west coast, I'm assuming he's all hippy and vegetarian with his hipster beard, wearing flannel shirts and hugging trees on a daily basis. Or, maybe not.

But I digress—don't forget to tune in and watch Conan tonight!


Recent Reviews of "How To Train With a T. Rex"

First book sighting
First book sighting at Barnes & Noble, June 6th, 2009.

Seen at Powell's
Saw it at Powell's about a week and a half later.

The book's been out for over a month now, so to pass the time, I've gathered a few reviews of the book. There's not many, but I'm hoping that'll change throughout the course of the summer. I was told that Michael Phelps himself will do a PR run (morning and late shows, etc.), but that hasn't happened yet. Looks like the summer is a busy time for the Olympian with all those swimming competitions. Each time I check to see what the guy's doing, he's always in some city swimming in some 'nationals', or breaking world records, or something. But hey, the guy's gotta do what he's gotta do!

UPDATE: Just found out that Michael will appear on Tonight Show with Conan O'Brian, this Tuesday, the 14th to talk about the book! Warm up the TiVo!

Here are a couple of reviews, for the curious:

Publisher's Weekly:
"Swimming champ Phelps provides a playful account of what his preparation for the Beijing Olympics entailed. The text jumps from one analogy to the next, beginning with the six years he trained: “That's a kindergartener's whole life! That's the same as 42 dog years!” Some comparisons wow more than others, as when Phelps equates the 12,480 miles he swam while training to swimming the full length of the Great Wall of China three times (“Perfect! Now do it two more times,” says his coach in the accompanying illustration, which shows the Great Wall as a pool that zigzags across mountains into the distance). Humorous but less compelling spreads demonstrate the time he spent napping during these training years. Many of the comparisons are downright silly, including the one that inspires the book's title, in which Phelps tallies the number of dinosaurs he could hypothetically leg-press in a single workout (nine tons worth). Debut illustrator Jenkins's digital cartoons comically mine this and other quirky references, depicting Phelps as a cheerful, larger-than-life caricature. Sports fans with a love of statistics should be both amused and impressed. Ages 4–8. (June)"

Pretty happy with this review from Publishers Weekly. A big time site on everything about the publishing industry. Quite an honor to get a decent mention! I, of course, bolded that part about me. Sorry. I like that they mention the Bob Bowman gag. That was not part of the text—it was something that I added into the book myself. Nice!

Barnes & Noble: Kirkus Reviews:
"The titular T. Rex only puts in a cameo but readers will still be wowed as super-swimmer Phelps recaps the six-year regimen that put him in shape to win a record eight Golds at the last Summer Olympics. He livens his recitation of laps and reps considerably with comparisons-"I trained for six years! That's a kindergartener's whole life! That's the same as 42 dog years!"-and after swimming 17 races in nine days to reach the finals won the 100-Meter Butterfly by 1/100th of a second: "about the length of a fingernail." In blocky digital paintings Jenkins stacks up pizza boxes, whole sports teams, Washington Monuments and herds of dinosaurs to back up the claims about distances run, calories consumed and weights lifted, and closes with a view of the athlete lounging on a sofa, holding a bowl of broccoli and thinking up new goals. (Perhaps appropriately for the audience but possibly compromising the book's timeliness, the athlete's suspension for smoking pot goes without mention.) Motivational and self-aggrandizing, like most of its ilk, but not too heavy-handed with the Message. (Informational picture book. 6-9)"

Okay, this one baffled me. Why ON EARTH would we even mention the suspension??? First of all, the book was done at least a month before The Photo was leaked to the press. Secondly, it's a KID'S BOOK. It's ludicrous to think that something of that nature would even be mentioned in a children's book! Third...well, there's no third. That's all I got, but it's enough to go on. No more explaining needs to be done, don't you think? I know that the reviewer was probably trying to make a joke, but still. The last line is nice, though. Have to give 'em credit for that.

Booklist Online:
"Gold medalist Phelps takes readers through the regimen he kept for six years that eventually led him to eight gold-medal victories at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Digitally rendered cartoon-style artwork depicts Phelps going through his training activities juxtaposed with the representations of comparable activities and measurements. This puts his activities into terms that young children can understand: six years equals a kindergartner’s whole life; his daily three-hour nap equals three whole summer vacations; and so forth. The title and the cover, showing Phelps working out with a dinosaur, are misleading, as the T. rex is only mentioned as a comparison to show the strength of Phelps’ legs: “I could leg-press a Tyrannosaurus Rex and 10 velociraptors!” This will not win any medals, but it is deserving of an audience. Share with children who enjoy How Much Is a Million? by David M. Schwartz (1985), or Mount Olympus Basketball, by Kevin O’Malley (2003)." — Randall Enos

Baltimore Sun's Kevin Van Valkenburg has the best one I think so far:
8 gold medals not child's play, but Phelps' tome for tots is.

The entire review is a little long, so here are some excerpts:

"I wanted to make a bunch of jokes about a cartoon version of Phelps telling a cartoon Ms. California that everyone deserves the right to get married, and reminding kids that cell phone cameras will be confiscated every time he and his cartoon posse walk into a room.

But the truth is - and maybe this is the result of having a kid of my own on the way - I kind of liked it. There isn't exactly a narrative there, and the inclusion of a Tyrannosaurus Rex makes very little sense, even in the illogical world of children's books. But it has a nice message and some cool illustrations by Ward Jenkins."


One of the things I've noticed is that the first thing most people do when they see the book is make fun of it. I mean, c'mon—it's a joke waiting to happen. (Even Conan mentioned the book in his monologue!) But then they end up liking it because of the message and (hopefully) the artwork. Interestingly enough, Kevin's review goes on to talk about Michael's dedication to children & fans. Because he's from Baltimore, the reviewer has a chance to see this first-hand:

"All that said, Phelps does genuinely care about kids. I've seen him sign autographs for junior swimmers at meets for more than an hour, even though he was exhausted from a day of competition. And at Meadowbrook Aquatic Center in Mount Washington, he is famous for his patience with kids who want to take his picture or tug on his sleeve and ask for an autograph. So while I'm a natural cynic, I'm also inclined to believe there are sincere motives behind this book."


I'm behind on a lot of things right now. Namely, my site. I need to update it to include a page solely devoted to How To Train With a T. Rex And Win 8 Gold Medals. Also thinking I need a mention of the book on the intro page, as well. Also thinking that I need to basically redesign & tweak the entire site while I'm at it. Ah, details. They'll be the end of me, I'm sure.

More photos from the first sighting:
Me with that book
Hey it's me with that book.

On the wall
It was wild to see it up there on the wall with all these other books. Wild, I tell ya!

Checking out the book
Showing Ava the dedication page. Aww.

Look! The book!
My eyes hurted after this.

If you haven't bought the book yet, then what are you waiting for? Support your favorite blogger! I'll be solely dedicated to you from here on out, I promise.

I'm currently gathering sketches and drawings together and will post some behind-the-scenes stuff on the making of the book. How does that sound? Actually, before I do that, I'll probably be featured on a children's book illustrator blog coming up. I'll keep you posted.


The Art & Life of Abner Graboff Part 2

Abner in his studio 1

Concluding my interview with Jon Graboff, artist and illustrator Abner Graboff's son, we talk about animation, the numbers game, and music:

W: I'm curious, do you know if your father did any work in animation? Abner's work would've fit in perfectly with various studios that were producing interesting work during the 50's, especially UPA Studios. Do you know if he had any connections in the animation industry?

J: Anyone old enough to remember the Danny Kaye Show during the 1960’s might remember my dad’s animation of a cartoon marching band parading along the bottom of the screen at the beginning and end of the show. I asked him once why he didn’t do more animation and he said, with pained look “it was too time consuming” and that he didn’t want to draw the same character over and over with an arm, here then there and so on!

UPDATE: Stu Shostack of Shokus Video has found the animated opening of The Danny Kaye Show and graciously uploaded it for all to see on YouTube! The segment that Jon speaks of, the marching band of people, doesn't appear until around :40, and is cut off, but it's still cool to see Abner's characters in action. Big thanks to Stu for doing this for us! See for yourself:

Abner in his studio 2
Top and above: great photos of Abner in his studio, 1951.

W: Ha! Yes, animation can be quite tedious. I'd love to see this opening, if possible.

Back to books, I have a 8 year-old daughter and a 5 year-old son. I recently released my very first children's book. What was it like to grow up with your father creating children's books and working as an artist? Any interesting stories to tell?

J: I remember the numbers game. My brothers and I would write a number down on a piece of paper and my dad would work it into a drawing… it’s kinda hard to describe. And dad making roman style armor out of yellow flexible art cards. A painting of a cowboy on the inside of my brother Mike’s closet and the barrels of the six shooters had clothes hooks screwed into them. My father restored an old snow sled and stenciled rocket on it. It was pretty cool. The funny thing about growing up with a book illustrator is that we knew virtually nothing of other well known children’s books. I didn’t know anything about Potter or Sendak until much later in life!

It’s funny that you mentioned “Dick and Jane” style illustrations because I remember elementary school, and using the “Dick and Jane” stories when we were learning to read, and thinking that they were very lame compared to dad’s work!

I think the enduring interest in my father’s illustrations comes down to one very important thing. They were fun and they were funny! He loved kids and had a big heart and a keen sense of humor and those qualities always came through.

Mrs. McGarrity's Peppermint Sweater 1
Mrs. McGarrity's Peppermint Sweater 3
Mrs. McGarrity's Peppermint Sweater 4
Mrs. McGarrity's Peppermint Sweater 5
Mrs. McGarrity's Peppermint Sweater 6
From Mrs. McGarrity's Peppermint Sweater, 1966.

Something For You Something For Me 3
Something For You Something For Me 5
Something For You Something For Me 7
From Something For You, Something For Me, 1960.

W: Did he have any musical interests, and/or musical talent? If so, did he influence you as a musician?

J: Here’s an amazing memory. My mother was a very talented violinist and there was always music in the house and my brothers and I took up band instruments in elementary school. Michael learned the trumpet, I played the French horn and my other brother Paul played the clarinet. Paul only seemed to be able to create one sound on his clarinet, which was reminiscent of a higher pitched foghorn… way off in the distance… whooooo. One night, we were sitting around the living room watching television and suddenly heard real clarinet playing from somewhere in the house. We looked around at each other with puzzled looks and realized that dad wasn’t there. We all bounded up the stairs, threw a bedroom door open and found dad playing the clarinet… and rather well. We all expressed our astonishment because he’d never even hinted at knowing how to play an instrument! He bashfully explained that he was a big Benny Goodman fan and had taken up the clarinet in high school. But he said his music teacher was a “Nazi” about the “correct” way to play “correct” music, and quit. This was the first time he’d picked up a clarinet in 25 years! He was actually pretty good.

He had collected small combo jazz 78’s as a teenager but later in life, listened almost exclusively to classical music. He loved Mozart in particular.

W: About your siblings, are they also artists and/or musicians?

J: My twin brother Paul, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2004, followed in my father’s footsteps and was a graphic designer. My older brother Michael is actually a very talented musician but became the family rebel by becoming a businessman. He lives in Munich, Germany and has two children.

W: Tell us a little about yourself. Can you tell me what your earliest memory was in regards to music? Were there any songs, band, events or concerts that had a major impact on you and your musical upbringing?

J: My earliest musical memories are of my mother singing a made up song about being on the swing as she pushed me higher and higher and my father singing me to sleep. Oddly enough, the song was the old depression era song, “Hallelujah I’m A Bum”. And honestly, I can’t remember a time when I was not thinking about music.

Vivian & Abner 1972
Vivian & Abner, 1972.

W: I see that you've collaborated with a great number of people, such as Ryan Adams, David Byrne, Willie Nelson, Ben E. King, Jon Spencer, to name a few. Any particular collaborations stick out in your mind? How long have you been performing? I'd love to hear how you got involved with the music industry.

J: Music became an all-consuming passion for me and I left home when I was 16 years old to join a band. I’ve played with lots of remarkable musicians over the years… some more so than others, but I like to think that I learned something valuable in each and every time. I think maintaining the attitude that I don’t know it all, and I can glean something from every situation, is something that I got from my father. He was artistically and intellectually curious by nature and he was always saying things like, I wonder why… I think that he believed that when you stop asking why, when, where, and what’s next… it’s all over.

Last photo of Abner. 1986.


This concludes my interview with Jon Graboff. I want to thank Jon for taking the time to talk with me about his father. I can't tell you how exciting this entire experience has been for me, a huge fan of Abner's work. It's one thing to enjoy a particular artist's work at face value, but it's quite a different experience once you know more about the artist and learn of his/her background. Thank you, Jon, for providing us the perfect opportunity to get to know your father, and for sharing with us your memories about his life & work.

It's unfortunate that Abner wasn't able to make much money off of his incredibly vibrant children's books. My hope is that there'd be enough interest in Abner Graboff's books that some publisher out there would be willing to reprint his titles, much like Rizzoli has done with M. Sasek's successful "This Is..." series. One can least hope, right?

More family photos:

 Night out
A night out: Abner, Vivian, and Ira (Abner's brother). 1945.

Gift giving
Gift giving: Vivian & Abner at Christmastime, late 1940's

More images from Abner's books:

10 Little Indians 1
10 Little Indians 3
10 Little Indians 4
From 10 Little Indians, 1963.

Old MacDonald Had a Farm 2
Old MacDonald Had a Farm 3
Old MacDonald Had a Farm 6
From Old MacDonald Had a Farm, 1969.

It's a Picnic!
It's a Picnic! Picnic Classics
It's a Picnic! Grandstand Snacks
From It's a Picnic!, 1969.

The Abelard Folk Song Book 18
From The Abelard Folk Song Book, 1958.

Who was Abner Graboff?
The Art & Life of Abner Graboff: Part 1 of my interview with his son, Jon.

More on Abner can be found here:
My Abner Graboff Flickr set
Abner Graboff in The Retro Kid
Abner Graboff on Biotope (Japanese site)