Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Favourite nonFiction Picturebooks

NonFiction (also called information books) are not what a lot of people think of when they think of picturebooks. My favourites have artistic illustrations, imaginative design, warmth, and humour.

Board and concept books 


from Black Bear Red Fox by Julie Flett

Counting and Alphabet

A madcap, hilarious chase through the alphabet.

A counting book that also makes a commentary on the evil of keeping monkeys 
and apes in zoos–a recurring them for Browne.

The pages in this ingenious counting book are shaped as an open mouth 
and gradually increase in size.

Some concept books combine concepts into one book. 
Denise Fleming's In the Small, Small Pond has counting
and a journey through the seasons of the pond told in rhyming couplets.


A deceptively simple meditation on a year in the life of a calf.

A video page-through of the brilliant pop-up book by Yoojin Kim 
on the ways that leaves provide for animals.

Science and Nature

from Jessie Hartland's true account, How the Meteorite Got to the Museum.

from Elise Gravel's Disgusting Critters book series, 
introducing animals like the rat, the slug, the spider 
and other unfairly maligned creatures.

An excellent handbook to take on a nature walk.

How water gets into our taps.

This series also includes Over and Under the Canyon, Over and Under the Rainforest,
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Over and Under the Pond.


The best bio of Mary Shelley, author of  Frankenstein

Gorgeous telling of Matisse's childhood.

A whimsical bio of Jane Goodall, focusing on her childhood.

Josephine Baker, singer, dancer and WWII hero.

Lovely bio of the New York artist who died tragically young.

I was fortunate to be commissioned to make an animated trailer 
for the wonderful bio Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Retelling Rumpelstiltskin

A roundup of fiction based on the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin put me in mind again of my interactive art exhibit, Rumpelstiltskin's Cupboard. Here is my watercolour that revisions the tale and my accompanying wall text:

Once there was a merchant who boasted that his daughter was so fabulous that she could even spin straw into gold. The greedy king hears of this and sends for her. He puts her in a room with some straw and says, "If this is spun into gold by morning, I’ll marry you. If not, I’ll kill you." He closes the door and she bursts into tears as she hasn’t the faintest idea how to do it and wishes her father wasn’t such a blowhard. Suddenly a weird little man appears and does it for her in exchange for her gold ring. He ends up having to bail her out three nights in a row because the king is so greedy. On the third night he asks for her first child in exchange. At this point, nowhere near pregnant and desperate, she agrees. So the king marries her and when the baby is born the weird little man pops up again. He won’t be dissuaded from taking the baby unless she can guess his name. She sends her courtiers to scour the kingdom and by accident one sees the little man dancing around a fire in the forest singing his name. "Is it Rumpelstiltskin?" she asks, which is correct. This makes him so furious he tears himself in half. The end.

This is a strange story. It equates babies with gold. It made me think about people who steal babies, and not those poor demented women who crave a child of their own and steal someone else's. This is understandable but there are other people who abduct and kill children. Why? I wondered if it is because babies are of such indescribable value. Whether it is an act of envious revenge against the world by individuals who felt they’d been shut out and deprived of the good things of life that everyone seems to have. In this piece I’ve shown Rumpelstiltskin as a crazy angry misfit who lives in a shed in the woods. He has snatched a treasure and is rushing home to gloat over it. But he will find that he can’t count it like a bag of money. A baby is only a treasure if you love it. He has impoverished others but not enriched himself.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Wild Swans, an interactive revisioning

A recent blog post by Tor Publishing on modern retellings of the fairy tale,  The Wild Swans, reminded me of my own reworking of this tale as a piece of interactive art. It was part of my show Rumpelstiltskin's Cupboard: Interactive Fairytale Art.
outside of antique wooden pool cue box with stencilled lettering "marriage keeps lads out of pool hall"

detail of swans becoming youths again

The Wild Swans, acrylic on wooden pool cue box, 5 x 42 ½ x 3 ½"

This is a story about a princess who has twelve brothers who have been turned into wild swans.  It is up to her to release them from enchantment by weaving twelve shirts out of nettles and getting the swans to wear them so they can turn back into men.  Remember that nettles are poisonous and cause your skin to painfully blister and rash if you accidentally touch them.  

I really liked this story when I was a little because the girl was so heroic and the picture of wild swans so romantic.  I had lots of fantasies of suffering tortures to rescue someone I loved.  Now in thinking it over, I would say that this tale is a perfect example of the Patient Griselda theme, so-called after the story of that name by Boccaccio in the Decameron.  Griselda exemplifies the perfect wife because of her capacity for endless, uncomplaining devotion.   That is, the perfect woman is the perfect martyr and masochist and will never complain, no matter how punishing the demands of her husband/father/wild swan brothers are.  She obeys and never questions because her love is so great.

Another great theme in this story is the age-old idea that women are responsible for taming the wildness out of men.  In recent years the British press has hauled out experts who claim that by getting pregnant but refusing to share their council flats with the lager-swilling, unemployed dads, young women are causing the downfall of society.  They are shirking their female duty to marry and thereby teach responsibility and good manners to young men.

  "Why should I?  He just lies about all day watching telly.  He steals money from my purse to go out drinking with the lads all night and then gets violent with me and the kids."   So the editorials in the Telegraph, Times, and Evening Standard were blaming the girls for the immature behaviour of young men.

This is why this piece is in a pool cue box.  Because the pool hall is one of the traditional hangouts of young men up to no good.

I had a few practical problems with the subject:  I know nettles are green, but green shirts looked so horrible on the swans in the night sky that I pretended to myself that they'd dried to a nice gold colour like ripe wheat.  I also sat there pondering how the swans could get their wings through the sleeves in mid-air, or if the shirts would blow off if they were just draped over the swans.  Then I told myself, "Stupid!  It's magic.  The shirts will just melt onto their bodies."


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Kiddo shortlisted for the Chocolate Lily Award!

So delighted to be considered for this magnificent BC children's choice award.

Front and back view covers of Kiddo

“Children who love to tell stories but struggle with spelling will find some encouragement here. Nugent writes with levity and a keen eye for the memorable details of childhood. Young readers may be persuaded to put down their game-controllers and step out into the sunlight.”
Canadian Children's Book News

“A lively and satisfying read.”
Winnipeg Free Press

★ “In this hilarious middle-grade novel, award-winning illustrator and author Cynthia Nugent captures the nostalgic charms of 1960s-style childhood without seeming dated or irrelevant. Nugent’s artistry shines in the neo-retro feel she brings to her story...Kiddo is a laugh-out-loud read, perfect for those whose tastes skew quirky.”
Quill & Quire, starred review

“Kiddo's family are all crazy in their various way -- but they are all accepting and loving of one another's foibles, and they all have fun together. More families should be like this one!”
CM: Canadian Review of Materials

“An abundance of humor in all its forms moves the plot and its many subplots to satisfying conclusions. Retro fun for persistent readers.”
Kirkus Reviews

Night ride home

A four-panel comic in pencil crayon of riding home from the skytrain after teaching.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Trudeau's government approves the Transmountain pipeline for the second time

When Trudeau's government approved the Transmountain pipeline for the second time, an emergency march was called. I grabbed a piece of cardboard, my purse-sized sketch kit and a jar of Bleedproof white and dashed out the door. Got the sketch and white under-lettering done on the bus, then most of the colour work while listening to the speakers at the rally. Was able to carry the sign during the march.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Serving time for protesting the pipeline

Sentenced to 14 days for blocking the road to the Kinder Morgan facility. A symbolic gesture because the trucks used a 2nd entrance. There were 5 of us arrested on August 20, 2018, all seniors except for one young woman. We sat on folding chairs on an empty road. My 14-day sentence was reduced to 9, served over 1 day and 3 weekends.  

Friday Feb 9, 2019

Friday night was very long and depressing. Lips and hands so dry it hurt. Thin mattress on concrete bench very hard on my hips. Woke up every hour to switch sides but still face the wall. Light is on all night, but there's 2 brightnesses: one dim, one bright. The dim is still too light for sleeping, so face the wall. 

My supper: first they brought me a frozen chunk of meat and mashed potato with gravy. When I told them I was vegan, they took it away and 30 min later brough a frozen plastic tray containing a "stir fry". Some chunks of cabbage and carrot, 3 small cubes of tofu and rice, all mixed together with vaguely Chinese sauce. Shrivelled frozen corn and peas. Cookie, juice in a box. 

We spend most of the time locked in our cells and get out for meals in a long line of pushed-together tables. Last night we were free to come and go all evening, so browed the book cart. Pretty awful books. All US blockbusters and romances. But apparently they're changed every week so maybe next weekend will be better. Finally chose Prescription of Death by Perri O'Shaughnessy.

Trying to remember to drink a cup of water every hour to hydrate my skin and bowels. Very hard to poo on an ice-cold steel toilet. Plus I have a hard time pooing when I'm this tense. Am so glad to have my mouth guard with me, even though this one is old and cracked.

Sat Feb 10
They woke us up at 730 am for medication. Most of the women lined up for heroin medication. I was there for my antidepressant which I've been taking for 20 years.

The light in the cell stays on all night. There is a bright and a dim. The mattress is too thin. It lies on a concrete base. My hips are aching. Woke up every hour because of it.

Locked up again after meds until 1030, the weekend time for breakfast. No paper or art supplies. There's a cup of stubby orange pencils with very short leads–the kind they leave out in the VPL. The suction seal on the pencil sharpener is broken so it's a 2-person operation - one to try to hold the sharpener steady on the countertop, the other to sharpen. There a rack of forms so I took some to draw on the back.

Breakfast: muffin, hash browns, vegan meat ball, coffee, grape jelly, powdered creamer, margarine,  ketchup, 3 teabags, sugar, and a cup of almond milk, and a slice of white bread. The sachets of condiments and tea are for the entire day. We can put our bread in the toaster in the unit. The "meat" ball was v good chopped up and stirred in with the potatoes and ketchup. I saved my margarine from breakfast to put on my lips and hands–Joy! Thanks to reading about that in The Handmaid's Tale. Must tweet Margaret Atwood and thank her.My clothes: very cheap black & white runners with velcro straps. I'm wearing size 10 because 9s are too small even though I normally wear 8.5s. Chose not to take the sports bra which has a wide uncovered elastic–too tight and nasty.  Dark green sweats: 2 t-shirts, 2 pairs sweatpants, 1 sweat shorts. 3 pairs synthetic black socks 

Other inmates polite and friendly. Very civil, in fact. Lots of please, thank you and sorry. Much better than my experiences of being in school, group home, or blue collar jobs. Quite a few seem to be mothers. One is 8 months pregnant and her baby is kicking a lot. She and another woman talked about labour over lunch which I was interested to eavesdrop on. My meal was 2 slices of white bread, idiocyncratic but not unpleasant hummus, veg barley soup, orange, coffee, powdered "juice." Delighted to get hummus.
Guards are called Ms. This afternoon's is Ms. Mendoza.

Was called to see the nurse to be trained on how to administer drug to a person overdosed on fentanyl, and also got a flu shot. Everyone who comes to the prison is gven an overdose kit to take home with them in case we come across an unconscious person. Many people are dying of drug overdose theses days. I asked for vaseline and she gave me a generous dab in a little paper pill cup. Even more joy!

Supper was felafel balls, boiled potato, vegan gravy, corn and an orange.

There was a wind storm last night, so we are running on a generator. The TV is not working because of it, which is disappointing because there was an ad for Vera on the knowledge network. Must be one huge generator to run a prison.

Put in a request on a white form for a 2nd mattress. Fingers crossed for tonight. In the meantime I made a pad of my 2 blankets which helps. Slept in my clothes in lieu of blankets.

Monday Feb 13
Home again.  I want to try to enjoy the snowy morning, catch up on my work and try to shake off this depression.   

Second weekend in jail

Nasty experience this weekend of being yelled at by guard. No one tells you that if you don't turn off your bright light by 11pm it stays on all night. I was trying to read as late as possible to make myself sleepy. I tapped softly on the window in the door of my cell to get her attention. She came over told me angrily to never tap on my door again unless it's an emergency and too bad about the light. 

Three women chatting

I wasn't allowed to make phonecalls because I was serving weekends. Many women phoned their children. The phones were tricky because you have to bank money with the jail in advance, then get the faulty voice recognition software to work.

My stuff. You aren't allowed to take anything in, but I had a letter from the dentist so they let me bring my mouth guard. I was desperate to bring it because I grind so badly I've lost 2 molars. I showed the nurse the two big holes in my mouth where teeth used to be.

Andy wanted art lessons so I showed her how to practice blind contour drawing, one of the best exercises for developing hand-eye coordination. I asked her if she'd shaved her head after breaking up with someone. She was surprised and said yes. I told that cutting off hair is a universal female reaction to love ending. It's an, often unconscious, signal that you do not wish to be approached. I'd researched this after my divorce and wondered why I felt so strongly that I needed to cut all my hair off.

When it was time to go the guard got angry at me because I wanted to check my purse before signing that I'd received my belongings. You're supposed to sign you've received them before you receive them.  Then I was body-searched by a guard who dug her fingers into my flesh all over my whole body, especially my armpits. It was awful.

Last Weekend

Feb 22
Back for my 3rd weekend at Alouette Correctional Centre for Women. The frozen "stir fry" was actually inedible. It must have been in the freezer for a long time because it took 8 minutes in the microwave for the rice to thaw. But that time the vegetables were disgusting. No tofu and no flavour whatsoever. But someone gave me a cookie and someone else gave me teabags. My guess is the cookie isn't vegan, but I'll go hungry if I don't eat it. New selection on the book cart, so I grabbed 3 and copied won likely shows from the Province TV listings at the guard station.

Saw a third nurse in as many weeks who was also nice enough to give me some vaseline. People who become nurses, like those who become librarians and kindergarten teachers, are mostly kind. Lockup isn't until 630 but I don't feel sociable. I was told Michelle got out this morning. I met her in the van going out to the prison when we were all in cuffs and shackles. She was drug sick. Now she's gone back to the downtown east side. I hope she does okay, but it will be tough.

My shoes are too small. Another woman is shuffling around with her feet hanging out of hers too.  Should have taken the jumbo size 11s. New inmates are very young. A zombieish person with black stubs for teeth "from drug use." Hard to understand what she's saying, but she doesn't say much, just sits beside me wherever I go. Another toothless person is pregnant–a very nice person, she gave me teabags. She's hoping to get into a treatment centre which the others say are very pleasant compared to here.

Sat Feb 23

Woke up every hour. The second mattress is worn paper thin in the middle so doesn't help my hips.  It's weird to sleep with a t-shirt over my head to keep out the light. I don't undress because I'm using one blanket to pad the mattress and the sheets won't stay tucked in, just slide all over the plastic mattress. Plus I just feel more secure with my clothes on. Switched to the dimmer light at 630 because I didn't want to accidentally have the bright one on all night again.

to be continued...