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I Am Birch

Hardcover, 32 pages, Picture Book, Ages 4-8

ISBN: 978-1-944762-39-1

Availability:

$17.95

About this Book:

A birch tree is an unlikely champion and protector of the forest in this story inspired by Gluskap, the heroic and kind-hearted figure of Wabanaki legends. As rumors of coming cold and darkness spread through the woods, chaos and fear grow. In a panic to collect and store food, the animals do damage to their very homes. The birch, now only a stump, remains firmly rooted and, with the wisdom and dry humor that only a stump can possess, helps the animals put their fears to rest. Acclaimed fine art painter Scott Kelley used his portraits of Wabanaki tribal elders as a springboard for the extraordinary paintings that make this a children’s book like no other.

Peaks Island artist and author Scott Kelley uses earnings from this book to fund a nonprofit that will make grants to help Wabanaki artists buy materials and supplies. FMI: iambirch.org

I Am Birch by Scott Kelley
  • I Am Birch by Scott Kelley
  • I Am Birch by Scott Kelley back cover
Reviews
News

Chosen for the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art 2018 Exhibit
Founded in 1980, this annual exhibit showcases original art from the year’s best children’s books as determined by a jury of outstanding illustrators, art directors, and editors. The jury also selects Gold and Silver Medal recipients for the year’s exhibit. The exhibit will be on display at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators (128 East 63rd Street, New York NY) from November 7, 2018, through January 5, 2019. 

I Am Birch is a timeless tale for contemporary readers. The art is breathtaking and poignant.” —Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet, author of Some Writer!

"When I asked [my son] the most important thing to know about this book, T told me that the book is about love. After a few seconds of thought, I saw what he meant: love that the birch has for the animals."
––Glass of Wine, Glass of Milk blog

'Early readers will be drawn into the plot thinking that winter is the approaching season. Adults and older students are sure to be enchanted by the Native American clothing and design touches. Kelley provides lots of white space and large print making this a good read for accomplished readers in early grades. Add this to public libraries, primary schools and gift to your favorite art teacher."

––Jan Hamilton, Maine Children’s and YA Book Review, Maine State Library

"Very highly recommended, 'I Am Birch' will prove to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library collections for children ages 4 to 7."
––Midwest Book Review



Peaks Island author’s book proceeds to supply Wabanaki artists

Peaks Island author’s book proceeds to supply Wabanaki artists

This article appeared in the Portland Press Herald, February 7, 2019

By Bob Keyes 

Peaks Island artist, illustrator and author Scott Kelley has started a nonprofit foundation that will make grants of up to $500 available to traditional Wabanaki artists so they can buy materials and supplies to continue making their art.

Kelley began the foundation following the publication last year of his children’s book “I am Birch,” which was based on the legendary Wabanaki figure Gluskap. “I felt as though I could not appropriate a Native American story and not figure out a way to give back,” he said.  

Kelley has heard many stories about Wabanaki craftsmen and women who cannot afford to buy the materials they formerly gathered for free. For a variety of reasons, including the privatization of land and restrictions on land use, many artisans have lost access to traditional resources. Kelley hopes the foundation will help about five artists a year with cash grants so they can purchase materials and continue to make art.

“They can no longer walk onto a tidal plain and gather sweet grass, and they can’t walk out into the woods and cut down trees on other’s people’s property,” Kelley said. “You want to do something that is part of your cultural heritage but are prevented from doing it, and that seems like an incredibly sad turn of events.”

Kelley published two versions of “I am Birch.” Proceeds from both will support the foundation, which opened with a balance of about $11,000.

In addition to seeking applications from Wabanaki artists for the initial round of grants, the I Am Birch Foundation also is asking for cash donations to build the fund. Kelley will earmark proceeds from the sale of one of his paintings each year to the foundation, which has a small board to oversee the grant program.

The application deadline for the inaugural grant cycle is Oct. 1, and the first grants will be awarded in the fall.

For information about the foundation, or to apply or donate, visit iambirch.org.

The book “I am Birch” tells an imaginative story of a birch tree that’s been reduced to a stump by an eager beaver, who foments fear among forest animals by spreading rumors that cold and darkness will be coming soon. They forage and stockpile to prepare for the inevitable arrival of winter. The birch remains kind and wise, refusing to give into the fear and eventually growing new branches and helping to restore sanity to the woods.

The book grew out of a series of fanciful paintings of animals dressed in the clothing of Native American elders. The paintings were displayed in an exhibition and offered for sale. To keep the series of paintings intact, a collector challenged Kelley to make a book that included reproductions of the paintings.

To do so, Kelley created a verdant world for his fanciful animals to inhabit and began writing the text. The first edition, which Kelley created with designer Sean Wilkinson, coincided with the exhibition of the paintings at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland. Islandport Press of Yarmouth picked up the book after the exhibition, asked Kelly for some refinements, and published a second version last spring.

“I Am Birch” selected for The Original Art Show

“I Am Birch” selected for The Original Art Show

I Am Birch, a children’s picture book from Peaks Island artist Scott Kelley, has been selected for The Original Art show, a prestigious  annual exhibit curated by the Society of Illustrators in New York.

I Am Birch, which was published by Maine’s Islandport Press, is centered around an unlikely protagonist—the stump of a birch tree. The story begins with rumors of cold and darkness spreading through the woods. A widespread panic ensues among the animals, and they forage and stockpile, leaving their forest home in ruins. The birch shows kindness, humor, and wisdom to the animals and, ultimately, alleviates their fears to bring growth and harmony to the woods.

Some of the paintings in I Am Birch, Kelly’s debut children’s book, were part of “Birch,” a 2017 art show exhibited at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland. Kelley had been working on a series of paintings of Wabanaki tribal elders, and another series of animals from the Maine woods. The two fused in his imagination. The story line was inspired by the legends of Gluskap, the heroic and kind-hearted figure of Wabanaki legends.

The Original Art, founded in 1980 by illustrators’ agent and art director Dilys Evans, showcases art from the year’s best children’s books as determined by a jury of outstanding illustrators, art directors, and editors. Two other Maine artists, Ashley Bryan and Matt Tavares, are also included in the 2018 show. Jurors for The Original Art awarded this year’s Gold Medal to Jose Ramirez for When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana (Simon & Schuster/ Atheneum).

Art by the featured artists will be on display at the Society of Illustrators (128 East 63rd Street, NYC) from November 7, 2018, to January 5, 2019. The Society will also host several community events and programs in conjunction with the exhibit. Selected books, medal recipients, and award winners will be recognized and honored during the Opening Reception and Awards Ceremony, held at the Society of Illustrators on Thursday, November 8, at 6:00 pm. Tickets are on sale for $25 members/ $30 non-members.

Kelley is a fine art painter whose work has been shown in numerous galleries and museums. He lives on Peaks Island with his wife and son.


Q&A: Scott Kelley

Q&A: Scott Kelley

Q&A: Scott Kelley first appeared in Islandport Magazine, Spring 2018.

Scott Kelley is the creator of I Am Birch, a children’s picture book to be published in April, 2018. Kelley is an artist whose paintings have appeared in fine art galleries in New York, Florida, and Maine.

When creating the art for I Am Birch, Kelley married three unique images —a photo of a bear, a photo of a Wabanaki man wearing a top hat, and a photo of a Mi'kmaq chief’s coat (all taken for previous projects). From this happy accident of subjects came a story inspired by Gluskap, the heroic and kind-hearted figure of Wabanaki legends. The Legends of Gluskap, a collection of paintings reflecting these interests, was exhibited in New York in 2015 and a subsequent collection, Birch, was on display at the Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland in 2017. 

How did the Birch paintings come about?

I was going through my picture files one night. A photo of a bear ended up next to a photo of a Wabanaki man wearing a top hat, and next to him was a photo of a Mi'kmaq chief’s coat. Twenty minutes later, I put them together and drew them all out on a big sheet of paper. This was how the Birch paintings got started. Sometimes, art happens like that. 

You paint on a larger scale. Is there a reason behind this or just personal preference?

I paint works in all sizes, but frequently I prefer larger canvases because the work fills the space—I can’t escape it. The Legends of Gluskap are very much about the Creator’s mistakes, beavers the size of whales and such. I liked the idea of painting the animals for Birch really big to show the Creator’s mistakes and how Gluskap might fix them. 

If you look at an overview of your work, it seems as though you are drawn to unique birds—larger specimens like flamingos, herons, and surf scoters. What is it about painting these birds that appeals to you?

Bird species that at first glance seem just plain wrong fascinate me. I love flamingos because they are ridiculous looking and highly specialized (they can only live in specific environments). My fascination goes beyond birds, though. I am a student of things people don’t usually pay attention to regularly. When you really study something and figure it out, that’s when all the details pop. The benefits from prolonged study are what keep me interested in a subject.

Do you listen to music while you’re painting? If so, what would the soundtrack to I Am Birch be like? 

Bob Marley was the soundtrack for Birch, primarily because reggae is about all I listen to in the studio. The beat is easy to follow and matches the pace of my brushstrokes for details on feathers or fur. 

When did you become interested in writing and illustrating children’s books? What were some of your favorite stories as a child, and now as a parent?

I Am Birch just kind of happened by accident. I’d never imagined writing or illustrating a children’s book. Collectors of mine wanted to keep all the paintings from Birch (which was initially designed as an exhibition) together somehow. To do so, those collectors gave me a grant to make a book, and I used the story of Birch as the framework. The world in which the animals inhabited just naturally became a book. 

As for books, Margaret Wise Brown is one of my favorite authors and one of the great American writers. There is something about her elegance. I’ve loved her meticulous phrasing ever since childhood. Her book, The Little Fur Family, is an amazing story and a thoroughly imagined universe. My son has gone to bed with me singing The Little Fur Family song for years. 

Author photo by Derek Davis


Islandport Press signs Artist Scott Kelley

Islandport Press signs Artist Scott Kelley

Islandport Press is pleased to announce it has signed Maine artist Scott Kelley and will release his first children’s picture book, titled I Am Birch, this spring.

Scheduled for release in April, the book features an unlikely protagonist—a birch tree that becomes the protector of the forest. The story begins with rumors of a cold darkness spreading through the woods. A widespread panic ensues among the animals, which leaves their forest home in ruins. The birch, however, now just a stump, stays rooted in its cause: to show kindness, humor, and wisdom to the animals and help alleviate their fears.

Caldecott Honor artist and author of Some Writer! Melissa Sweet says of the new book, I Am Birch is a timeless tale for contemporary readers. The art is breathtaking and poignant.”

“Scott’s paintings are utterly unique and compelling,” says Islandport Editorial Director Melissa Kim. “Both his paintings and his writing demonstrate tremendous powers of observation as well as sly humor, and it’s that unusual pairing that made us realize this could be an outstanding picture book, one sure to delight young children and adults alike.”

Many of the paintings included in I Am Birch were part of a show, “Birch,” which was exhibited at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, Maine, in 2017. Kelley had been working on a series of paintings of Wabanaki tribal elders, and another series of animals from the Maine woods. The two fused in his imagination. The story line was inspired by the legends of Gluskap, the heroic and kind-hearted figure of Wabanaki legends.

Kelley is a fine art painter whose work has been shown in numerous galleries and museums. His most recent show, “Loxahatchee Paintings and Drawings,” opened at the John H. Surovek Gallery in Palm Beach in December. Kelley lives on an island off the coast of Maine with his wife and son.

Islandport Press is a dynamic, award-winning publisher dedicated to stories rooted in the essence and sensibilities of New England. For more information, please call 207-846-3344, visit www.islandportpress.com or email info@islandportpress.com.

Author photo by Derek Davis
Scott Kelley

About this Author

Artist Scott Kelley lives on an island off the coast of Maine with his wife, Gail, son, Abbott, and an imaginary pig named Lunchbox. He received a BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in Ne

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