Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pug Love: A Birthday and Books for Koko, My Faithful Fuzzy Friend

Koko Acrylic Painting by Sara Baicker-McKee

I was never a dog person.

Except for a neurotic collie that my parents gave away when we moved from California to Virginia when I was a year old, my family always had cats, not dogs. Thanks to Diddle, Mittens, Lucy, and Jelly Bean, to this day, I am sucker for purring, sandpaper tongues, and the way a cat rubs against your legs. (Okay, this is completely off topic, but that reminded me. Let's say you're working on an illustration and you need a photo reference of a "kitten rubbing against someone's leg" - let me give you a tip. Do NOT do an internet search for that phrase. The images that come up do not bear much resemblance to young felines.)

Anyway, I always figured I'd have a cat someday, but when my oldest son turned out to be allergic, we opted instead for a series of little caged critters: mice, a hamster, a guinea pig, a chinchilla, a whole mess of roly poly bugs.
Mini-beaded Koko. By Sara, age 10 or so.

Life was good, right? Only not for my youngest, my daughter Sara. Almost from the moment she was born, she had A Thing for dogs. As a tiny infant, her eyes widened and her whole body quivered whenever she spied a dog. "Woof" was one of her first words. By the time she was a preschooler, she preferred her cousins' threadbare hand-me-down doggy costume to even the sparkliest princess getup, knew the distinguishing characteristics of dozens of dog breeds, and she and her best buddy got in trouble at preschool for only speaking in dog and preferring to consume their graham crackers and milk doggy- style. (By that I mean no hands! And don't do an internet search for that term either!) When Christmas and her birthday rolled around, every year Sara's wish list contained just one item: a real, live dog. If she couldn't have that, then nothing, thank you.

Despite this pressure, I did a pretty good job of remaining canine-free. I had three closely-spaced kids, a menagerie of critters in cages, and the occasional uncaged "visitor." Plenty of mess and noise and walks and poop to deal with already. And despite the promises of my daughter and other family members, I knew who would end up taking care of any dog that entered the household.
Puppy Koko. By Sara at age 8

Then I made a deadly error. For the first time since my kids were born, I went away by myself on a just-for-fun girls weekend.

And came home to find myself a dog owner. Well, a dog-owner to be, since the puppies were too young to leave their mother.

For the twelve years since then, as predicted, I've had even more mess and noise and walks and poop to deal with. And yes, I've been the primary caregiver for Koko.

And I've loved it. Koko captured my heart from the moment she entered our house, a round-bellied, wrinkle-faced pug puppy who charmed us by wearing an old sock with holes cut out for her head and legs, wrestling Big Kitty, the huge stuffed animal sent home with her, and chewing everyone's shoelaces to shreds.

For the first few months, we regularly debated who was smarter, Koko or a post, and the post usually won. But over time, thanks to being very strongly motivated by any remotely food-like substance, she has proved herself to be a fair bit sharper than the post. She easily learned the usual tricks like "Sit!" and "Stay!" and "Roll Over!" and "Bang! You're dead." But she also learned trickier tricks, like how to balance a cheerio on her nose and wait a long time until you say "okay!" to toss it in the air and catch it neatly in her mouth, and how to jump through a hula hoop like a circus dog (though no longer so high as she used to), and, perhaps trickiest of all, how to walk around a treat just lying there on the floor ripe for the gobbling when ordered to "leave it!" Plus she learned the commands in French, as well as English. Pretty good, huh?
Miniature Koko in polymer clay, by Sara around age 10.

Perversely, for twelve years, she has refused to learn the command "Come!" - but breaks land-speed records to be at your side if you even spell the word "treat." (For that matter, she recognizes several dozen spelled words, for some reason, all food-related...). She even figured out how to shove a chair around the kitchen to get on the table or counter if someone foolishly left food up high, only giving up the practice once arthritis got the better of her joints.
Koko. Illustration in cut paper, polymer clay and wood by me (Carol Baicker-McKee) from unsold picture book, Little Dog
She has her flaws too. She snores and snorts and never stops obsessing about food. She loves people - but other dogs not so much. She whines without stopping when she goes for rides in the car. She sheds - way more than a dog so small should, and all year round to boot. If there's a dog, horse, giant squirrel, bad guy, scary music, or loud singing on TV, she attacks the set so ferociously we had to build a fence around it and get a DVR so we could replay the scenes we missed. If you're petting her and stop, she puts her paw on you to remind you to continue. And repeats the next time you stop. And the next time. She has perfected the head tilt and sigh that makes everyone feel guilty about not sharing their food.

But somehow, none of that matters to me, the cat-lover. (Though it all drives my husband, a lifelong dog guy himself, absolutely batty. Go figure.)

We celebrated her birthday this year with a tea party by the fire. Nice and cozy for all our aging bones.

The visiting cat was invited but declined.
She had some work to get done on the computer.

And then she needed to wash her hair.

I'll polish off the celebration with a few of our favorite children's books featuring pugs (though of course, none is as cute as Koko - who even made this week's "Pets on Furniture" feature by Kim on the addicting design blog Desire to Inspire).

Eloise and Weenie by Hilary Knight for Kay Thompson's Eloise
My family has loved the Eloise books by Kay Thompson and illustrated by fab Hilary Knight that were favorites of my own as a child. They co-star Weenie, Eloise's "dog who looks like a cat." Hmm. Maybe that's why I like my pug so much.
Say Hello to Zorro by Carter Goodrich is a relatively new book (2011) and is as suitable for families welcoming a new child as it is for pug lovers or dog lovers in general. Mister Bud has his life all figured out - until the usurper pug Zorro shows up and wrecks everything. (Fortunately it all works out. Phew.) Goodrich does a great job of capturing the big-dog temperament of pugs, as well as their stocky physique and no-nonsense expressions. Love!
Jennifer Sattler's Chick 'n' Pug is another relatively recent title (2010) and tells a tale of mistaken impressions. Chick, having read books about a superhero pug is ripe for disappointment when she finally meets a real live pug - who is more like the typical couch potato of the breed. But again, all works out!

For older readers, I recommend the Molly Moon books by Georgia Byng, beginning with Molly Moon's Book of Hypnotism. Molly is a quick-witted orphan, and the pug is, uh, the bad-tempered sidekick of the villain - but it's all lots of fun for middle-grade readers.

One final note: my dog-loving daughter Sara is all grown up now and paints wonderfully sensitive dog portraits like the one that opens this post in her smidge of free time. If you're interested in a portrait of a beloved pet, you can contact her here through me. Just shoot me an email at baickermckee[at]gmail[dot]com or leave a comment here with info on how to contact you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

More Homemade Valentines: Quilled Hearts and Flowers

For those of you more interested in making pretty Valentines with your kids than the humorous bodily-noises variety I featured in yesterday's post (here), I bring you a technique that's:
  • relatively easy (though a tad time-consuming),
  • relaxing (a good project for while you watch TV or chat with friends/family),
  • versatile,
  • inexpensive, and
  • impressive-looking
It also goes well with chocolate! What more can you ask for?

(I apologize for the blurry photo above. It was the only one I had of a quilled Valentine I made for a friend last year. I nearly always forget to photograph our Valentines...)

Although I'd fooled around with quilled pictures as a kid, it was an article on breathtakingly beautiful quilled Valentines in a February issue of  Martha Stewart Living a few years back that sparked my interest in trying it again. You can still find step-by-step descriptions of the how-to, as well as suggestions for an assortment of quilled Valentine crafts on her website here.

I'm not going to repeat the full how-to since I don't think I could do it better than Martha, but I'll outline the materials and basic steps I used to make the Valentine above. Then you can make your own version - one of the great things about this craft is that you don't have to be a confident artist to come up with your own lovely designs or make something that looks remarkably polished.

Materials and Tools
  • Paper To make the Valentine above, I cut strips from bright copier paper and lightweight cardstock. (You can purchase special strips in different widths intended for quilling, but they tend to be expensive. Since uniformity is not crucial for this project, I'd go cheap.) You'll also need a piece of heavyweight cardstock or a blank card for the background. If you don't have colored paper, don't fret: white-on-white quilling looks elegant.
  • Paper cutter Or a ruler and steady hand to make your strips. (Or quilling paper already in strips.)
  • Scissors For adjusting length and fringing. It's nice to have decorative scissors that scallop the edge before you fringe, but they're not essential
  • Glue Ordinary white glue is perfect. (I apply it sparingly with a toothpick.) A glue stick can work too, but may not hold some of the heavier blossoms.
  • Curling tool You can buy commercial quilling tools (see here), but a skewer or skinny knitting needle works pretty well too. (Inna Dorman on her interesting kids and craft blog Inna's Creations  also has instructions for making a simple but effective quilling tool here.)
  • Tweezers (optional) Help keep glue off your fingers and creations, but not essential unless you're working very small.
  1. Make a heart "frame" I used my paper cutter to make a long strip of 1/4" cardstock, folded it roughly in half and then curled the loose ends toward each other, glued them together, and bent them into a loose heart shape. I applied glue to the edges with a toothpick and arranged the heart on my blank card. (I deliberately made mine assymetrical, but you could use a heart template to make yours more perfect if you prefer.) Hold down for a minute or so until the glue sets up.
  2. Make an assortment of fringed flowers These will look kind of like daisies or asters. Cut strips of different colored papers in an assortment of wider widths. (Mine varied from about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch.) I didn't bother to scallop mine, but you can. I speed up the fringing by first folding the strips and cutting through 4 layers at a time. Be careful not to cut all the way through! Roll the strips into a coil and then bend and ruffle the "petals." I used tight coils for the centers, but loose coils work too.
  3. Make some bell flowers The Martha site has step-by-step instructions, but basically you make a tight coil and poke in the middles, adjusting until you have a smooth "cup."
  4. Make a few other shape flowers I did some iris-like flowers from quilled teardrop shapes. Martha shows how, plus she has instructions for roses, which I didn't use here but have incorporated in other cards. (They're a bit more fiddly, especially for beginners or young kids.)
  5. Arrange the flowers within the frame I do this first to make sure I've got the space reasonably full but not overcrowded.
  6. Make stems and leaves No firm right or wrong way to do this. I mostly bent and loosely curled narrow green strips for the stems. Teardrops make nice leaves. Try varying sizes, with smaller leaves toward the ends of stems. Also, varied shades of green can look attractive
  7. Glue everything in place It takes a little time for the heavier flowers to "stick."
Obviously, these do not mail well in a regular envelope...

If you enjoy this craft and want more ideas for projects, here are a couple of good sites for inspiration and tips:
  • Ann Martin's blog All Things Paper (while you're there, check out  her beautiful quilled marriage certificates)
  • Inna's Creations (which I mentioned above) Lots of ideas for "flat" quilled projects for both kids and adults (see here) and also cool 3-D projects (see here) to try once you master the basics.
  • And if you really want to see how these techniques can be used for real art, check out the work of master quiller Yuliya Brodskaya here and here. Her stuff just blows my mind.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Homemade Valentines (of the Borderline Inappropriate Sort that Boys Might Be Willing to Make)

Valentine for his classmates. By my son at age 7
The Valentine above almost got my son kicked out of school.

Long time readers of my blog as well as my unfortunate offspring will know that I have rather rigid rules for school Valentines. (See this previous post for example.)
  • First, you must give Valentines to ALL your classmates so as to avoid hurt feelings.
  • Second, and this is the even more important one: no crap TV character ones from Walmart. You have to make your own.
These rules resulted in my children creating exquisite works of art that I will treasure forever.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha HA!

Okay. The truth. What they resulted in was a bunch of crap "homemade" Valentines. Usually wonky construction paper "hearts" slathered with strange assortments of stickers, stained with tears shed during the inevitable frustration tantrums, and finished with lollipops taped to the front obscuring their signatures. If they bothered to sign them. But at least the cards didn't have TV characters on them...

That was until I discovered the six secrets to getting boys involved in public declarations of love (or at least sort-of-liking).
  1. Let them use normally off-limits equipment in my studio, like the fragile light table or dangerous xacto knives
  2. Encourage them to incorporate their current passionate interests
  3. Assist with the boring parts like signing their names, putting the cards in envelopes, and addressing them (by "assist" I mean "do it for them")
  4. Incentivize frequently with samples of the candy included with the cards
  5. Maintain low quality standards
  6. Have them write love poems
The first five secrets I figured out on my own. The last one, though, is thanks to their wonderful kindergarten teacher, Ms. Frey. She introduced them to classics of love poetry like:

"I love you,
I love you,
I love you divine.
Please give me your bubble gum.
You're sitting on mine."

The Valentine featured here took my fine-motor challenged child hours and hours to make. Not to mention the ages he spent creating the verse. In the process:
  1. I let him use my light table (which is how the writing is more or less in a straight line). Also I let him use the xacto knife to slice a piece of scratch paper to shreds, even though that had nothing to do with his project.
  2. I let him incorporate his current and longstanding interest in loud burping.
  3. I allowed him to sign his name only once and then photocopied it. And I did all the stuffing and addressing.
  4. I fed him lots of lollipops while he worked. Lots.
  5. I mentioned the lack of rhyme in his rhyming verse and the half-finished border around the heart only once and didn't say another word when he insisted he was done.
  6. I laughed - genuinely - at his funny poem and drawing. Actually I rather liked the absence of the expected rhyme. It was another little touch of humor (though I'm not certain it was intentional).
Then I sent him off to school with his packet of Valentines. Where the room mother at the class party saw his card and then expressed her shock at its inappropriate "potty" humor and attitude toward females to the longterm substitute (the original, beloved teacher had just started a sabbatical). Where the new teacher then confiscated all my son's Valentines. Where my son then dissolved in tears but fortunately waited until he was outside the school to call the teacher many, many mean names of the sort that might get a kid kicked out of school.

We actually resolved the incident amicably (after I had my own temper tantrum in front of my husband). The teacher apologized and let Eric distribute his cards another day, and they were great buds the rest of the year. And I had a pleasant chat with the room mother (who obviously had no sons of her own), and although we were not exactly best buds after that, well, we weren't best buds before either.

On second thought, maybe you should just to a run to Walmart for some TV character Valentines after all. But don't forget the extra lollipops. You'll still need them for the signing and addressing part. (Though perhaps you prefer high quality dark chocolate like I do.)

P.S. This is my favorite Valentine's Day book. All my kids loved it too, even though there is absolutely no mention of farting or burping in the whole story.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Hope you have a day filled with treats and only nice tricks!
I'm planning to start blogging here again - I've missed all of you.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Children's Books Spared from Lead Law's Axe! Hooray!

This post also appears on my group writing blog, Route 19 Writers.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham for Wagner, Richard (translated by Margaret Amour) (1911). Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods. London: William Heinemann, New York: Doubleday. Public domain image obtained through Wikimedia Commons via Haukurth
Over the years, children's books have battled many dragons: censorship; competition from TV, video games, the internet, etc.; slashed library and school book budgets; changes in bookselling; changes in publishing. Oh! And horrid picture books by celebrities.

They sometimes emerge from these battles a bit singed or bloodied, but emerge they do.

Then a few years ago, another threat quietly crept into the children's book world and threatened catastrophe, especially for libraries and fans of vintage books. In 2008, in the wake of recalls of popular toys (made in China) for high lead levels, Congress nearly unanimously passed a law intended to protect children: the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This law, among other things, required that ALL children's products aimed at kids 12 and under be tested and certified to be (basically) lead-free. Lead is a known neurotoxin and children are especially vulnerable.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, the devil is in the details, and unfortunately the law failed (among other flaws) to exempt zillions of products that pose no significant threat to children. Like books. Which have NEVER been implicated in a single case of lead poisoning.

Not only did the law require expensive testing of each of the components of new books (which would have driven up the cost with no increased benefit to kids), it was retroactive, requiring testing and certification of previously published books. Here's why this was terrible for libraries and used books:
  • Testing is terrifically expensive (and hard to obtain) and libraries and used sellers were required to test every children's book in their collections or for sale.
  • The mandated testing is destructive testing - which means after submitting a book for testing, the library or bookstore would no longer have the book to circulate or sell.
To make things even worse, the Consumer Product Safety Commission discovered that a handful of children's books published before 1984 contained lead in excess of the new stringent limits. In some colors. On some pages. Never mind that a child would have to eat hundreds of books before raising his blood lead level noticeably, the law was inflexible, and the CPSC banned the sale or distribution to children of books printed before 1984.

Fearing lawsuits, some libraries and many used sellers did remove older books from their shelves. But the reason your local library may not have a nearly empty children's department is that the CPSC has issued a variety of stays of enforcement and temporary exemptions (plus there are bunch of feisty and renegade librarians out there) - but all these stays and exemptions were set to expire at the end of this year. And every attempt to amend the law or repeal it has failed.

Until this week!

Here's the start of the announcement of the amended law in Publisher's Weekly (written by Karen Raugust who has done a terrific job of covering CPSIA book developments for PW):
On Monday, three years after the August 2008 enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, publishers of ink-on-paper books and other printed materials suddenly received news they’d been hoping for from the outset. Both the House and Senate passed an amendment to CPSIA that exempts “ordinary” children’s books, along with a few other classes of products (e.g., all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles), from the law’s testing provisions.

It also removes the retroactive provisions of the original law, so old books are officially safe again!!! You can read the rest of the good news here.

Children's books win again!

Sadly, for people who care about kids, the battle to make CPSIA reasonable and effective is far from over. Many, many safe and valuable products were given no relief, including original wall art for kids, small batch handmade toys and apparel (made with all safe components), limited batch items aimed at kids with special needs, and many, many more. Get in touch with your congress-folk and let them know you want further changes! You can read more about how the law affects other products here on the blog of a producer of quality educational products for kids; warning: Rick Woldenburg who writes the blog is angry. Understandably.

I'll leave you with images of a lovely vintage book now spared from the toxic waste dump: Ameliaranne Keeps Shop, "Told in Words by Constance Heward; Told in Pictures by Susan Beatrice Pearse" as it says on the title page. My copy was published in 1928 by David McKay Company, and the story about the kind and resourceful Ameliaranne is as charming and fun to read now as I expect it was nearly a century ago.
Isn't it gorgeous? And though a few of the Ameliaranne stories are available as downloads, what a shame it would be to miss the visceral experience of holding this beautiful small book! And smelling it - it has a wonderful scent of bookcloth, glossy paper, and time. And love.
Because who could not love Ameliaranne? In this tale, she has to think on her feet and figure out how to thwart a nepharious imposter trying to make off with the shopkeeper's money.
Fortunately she is as clever as she is good-hearted.
It all works out! For Ameliaranne, the shopkeeper, and Ameliaranne's young siblings who want to go the picnic but need new shoes which their washerwoman mama can't afford.
Even the endpapers are breathtaking.
It is exceedingly hard to track down information about the authors and illustrator of these books, but you can read a little more about the series of Ameliaranne books on Jane Moxey's lovely blog Moxey's Musings here and find a list of all the Ameliaranne titles (which were written by a variety of authors but always illustrated by Susan Beatrice Pearse) on a Fairacre Wikia page here.
I'm jumping for joy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

When I was a kid, my favorite part of Valentine's Day was not candy, getting tons of mail, or finding out that someone I liked liked me back (though of course I loved all those things), but making my Valentines. I spent weeks before the big day dreaming up different designs and then troubleshooting construction problems (my Valentines always had some complicated paper engineering thing going on, with windows or doors that locked with a lollipop stick, folded paper springs that made hearts pop out when someone opened the card, or other pop-up features). And then there was the making phase, parked at the kitchen table with my mom and sisters and piles of construction paper, doilies, and gobs of old-fashioned paste.  I have conveniently forgotten the temper tantrums that traditionally accompanied my over-reaching projects.

The happy memories are no doubt the reason I often spent every February 13th when my kids were young once more parked at the kitchen table with mounds of craft supplies trying to coax my craft-indifferent sons to make their own Valentines too (and then staying up late finishing them up when the boys abandoned the project midcourse and I couldn't bear to think about some poor classmate being left out).

Fortunately for me, my daughter was a different story. She liked to make things too. And still does to my everlasting delight.

The little matchbox Valentines she made in first grade remain one of my all time favorite Valentine projects. (The little love bugs inside were NOT my favorite - too fiddly for little hands.) These Valentines were also a favorite of my middle son's, because not only did he do something similar, albeit simpler:
I let him keep the giant ziplock bag full of the matches we dumped out of the sixty-some little matchboxes! Which was a LOT of matches.

He spent the next zillion summers constructing elaborate if rather wobbly structures from the matches and glue and then setting them alight (under adult supervision, in the driveway, on low wind days with a bucket of water handy, but still). I am a terrible mother obviously.

These are very simple Valentines to make, possible to do at the last minute if you have a spare box of matches handy. Simply cut a paper strip long enough to wrap around the box, draw a design on the front (my daughter designed four different buildings - the flower shop and house shown at the top of this post, and I think a school and a library, but I guess I didn't save samples of them), and then glue it in place. For mass production purposes, I pasted up the four designs on a single piece of paper and photocopied them, and then my daughter cut out the strips and glued them around the boxes -- but one of kind designs work too.

I recommend putting some heart stickers, a sweet note or a little candy inside (as my son did) rather than spending a bazillion hours gluing miniature googly eyes and punched heart "wings" onto glass gems. Fewer frustration tantrums for everyone that way.

I'll close with a photo of my pug, Koko, who is celebrating her 11th birthday today. In style.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cut Paper Christmas: Encore with a Solstice Slant

My goodness, there has been a lot of Christmas-time paper cutting at my house over the years! Here are some more paper cuts that we've done in years past - some by my kids, some by me - mostly with a snow/winter theme. I'll add some tips for making your own.

The snowmen above were part of a large quantity of paper bag papercuts we made one year to adorn our packages, which were wrapped with either plain white or plain red paper. One of my kids did the cutting for the one above, following a free hand drawing I did on the back side of the paper. It was cut on a fold (sort of paper doll chain style, only with just a single repeat). I reused the lightweight paper bags the kids took their lunches in - they have enough body/stiffness to cut cleanly, but are light enough for small hands to get the scissors through two layers easily. The eyes and buttons were made with a standard circle hole punch. I let all my kids graduate to real scissors (often Fiskars embroidery scissors) at a relatively young age (6 or 7) and just supervised their cutting. No one ever got hurt, not even a smidge, though my guys did not have especially good fine motor skills. (I think kids are sometimes more careful when they're using real tools - and the results are definitely superior.)
The house above is basically the same method, but a single picture with no fold/repeat. Also cut by a child (though I may have cut the windows - don't recall).  For interior cuts (like the windows and door), I usually (re)folded the paper so the kids didn't have to poke scissors into the middle of the paper to get the window or whatever started. Afterwards, I ironed the paper cuts on a low setting to get out the folds. (You can even mist kraft paper lightly to steam it and make it smoother.)

This was our Christmas card one year. I apologize for the crappy image - my cheap scanner seems to have a tough time with hard edges and it's made them look all uneven, which they aren't in the original. I cut this one, using a craft blade rather than scissors. The papers are thin origami papers, though a heavier paper likely would have worked equally well.

What I like about it is that the polar bear is a negative - I cut away part of the blue paper to leave the figure. The moon and stars are also negatives. It's somewhat trickier thinking the drawing through - and also harder to cut (you have to be careful not to cut away the lines of the legs and make an effort to keep the lines thin enough), but going slowly and holding the thin unconnected bits with a fingernail to stabilize them as you cut are the keys. I start first with the small interior cuts, like the space between his hind feet and the rearward front leg - it's easier to do those while the paper is still mostly whole. Then I cut the edges of the lines for the legs before cutting away the rest of the interior bear. Last I cut away for the snow and forming the outer edges of the polar bear's legs.

The shadow is a piece of gray paper added separately - though obviously I didn't think through the direction the moonlight would cast it!

This was also our Christmas card one year - made by my oldest when he was in kindergarten. We planned the picture together - and what was notable was his idea not to show the whole person, just part. That's an unusual approach for a child that age - but it shows the value of sharing good art and talking about it with your children. Just before we made this, we visited the Carnegie Museum of Art here in Pittsburgh. I have forgotten which painting served as his inspiration, but I clearly remember our discussion about cropping images and choosing what to show and what to leave out.

He cut the snowflake freehand (I folded the paper for him first). Making snowflakes was a constant winter activity for my kids in those days. Then he cut out the shapes for the mitten, sleeve, face and hats from white paper following lines I helped him draw on white printer paper. He also cut fringes from black construction paper for the hair and shirt cuff and we glued everything onto another piece of black paper. I cut the curves for the eyes and nose, and he made circles for the pupils with a paper punch. To make the cards and gift tags, I photocopied the image, reducing it to a variety of sizes and ganging them onto a single sheet so I could print a bunch at a time. This was pre-photoshop years! We cut and pasted the images manually onto white cards or manilla tags. They looked pretty sophisticated for a five-year-old's work.
The images above and below were cut by me from silhouette paper, using a craft knife. They look challenging (and were, because the originals were fairly small - but carefully planning and working slowly are again the keys to success. 

Real silhouette paper is nice to work with - a good weight and reasonably strong.  You can buy it here. For these kinds of images, I draw the image on vellum tracing paper with a soft drawing pencil (like an Ebony pencil - love those guys) because they make nice thick lines that are easy to leave behind as I cut. It's best to use a slightly dull pencil. I then turn the drawing upside down onto the back (white side) of the silhouette paper and transfer the image with a wooden stylus. This means the final image will have reversed back to the same as your drawing.  Be careful not to press too hard or the lines will show through on the final silhouette.

Again, I always do all the interior cuts first.

I like how the pinecone and some of the needles "violate" the borders in these. I always like that in book illustrations too. The illustrator Tomi Ungerer often had elements in his pictures violating the borders.

You can often reattach bits you've accidentally cut away by taking a thin scrap and gluing it to the back side of the main piece and the cut away part. Touching up with a little permanent black ink will hide any telltale white lines.

Below is a Santa cut by my son when he was nine or ten. I did the drawing, and he did the cutting using embroidery scissors and silhouette paper.  I cut the black frame for him with a craft knife - it gives the work a nice finished appearance, I think.

My son wanted to make a Santa holding a star like the one in this charming, quirky vintage Christmas book first published in 1956. It's by Mary Chalmers, one of my all time favorite writer-illustrators.

Elizabeth discovers the star for the top of her tree has gone missing, and she bravely sets out into the snowy woods to find a new one. This was a favorite holiday story in my family growing up. We always called the book "Wizbiss" - which was how my younger sister pronounced the protagonist's name.

Unfortunately, the original, which was lovely and just the right size for small hands, belonged to that same younger sister, and I wasn't able to steal it away once we were grown. For years I tried in vain to track down a copy of my own - luckily it was reprinted a while back, though in a larger, glossier format I just don't like nearly as much.

Sigh. Books like this that were scarce before CPSIA have only become rarer still. But if you want an old copy, you can hunt for one on sites like Amazon, Alibris and AbeBooks.

I'll leave you with one last snowflake blizzard - arranged into a wreath one year to fill the space above my mantle until I could come up with some art to put there. (We'd just taken down the damaged mirror that was there before and repaired the wall.) I think I got the idea from a magazine. (Martha Stewart?)