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Posts Tagged ‘Author’s Purpose’

Spiders and Crabs!

Written on Thursday, March 11th, 2010 [permanent link]


Usually I am the Weirdest Thing of The Day when I visit a school — but that was not the case this week at Boonsboro Elementary on the west side of Lynchburg, VA!!!

When I swept in to the office of Boonsboro for a presentation of my “Author’s Silly Purpose” talk, there was a mom steering a Mexican red-kneed tarantula around the shoulders of her son’s first grade teacher!!! Of course I wanted my turn with this lovely female named “Cruella . . . ”

I actually had to make my silly faces for the photos in complete silence because the beautiful Cruella would jump at any sudden motion or sound. I laughed once while she climbed on me, and she didn’t like that boisterousness! She was really lovely — calm and quiet and slow-moving (despite the office folks’ jokes about her going for my jugular vein).

Cruella’s knees weren’t red, as her name implies; they were a peachy kind of orange. Her kind are among the most popular tarantulas available in the pet trade, due to their impressive size, coloring, and peacefulness. Wikipedia tells me they are a slower growing species; it is not uncommon to have females live 25 years or more. (The mom had one plastic container for Cruella and another one full of crickets for her to eat.)

After my fun with the tarantula, it was back to work. I spoke to a cafeteria full of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Boonsboro. They liked the crab hat.

One fellow liked the crab hat so much that after the assembly ended he ran to his classroom, grabbed this crab hat and came back to show me!!! I’m glad he was brave and silly enough to share a photo and a fist bump with me — that’s the kind of inspiration I hope to leave at each school I visit.

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Artist becomes the Editor!

Written on Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 [permanent link]


I’m back in Richmond this week doing artist-in-residency work with 4th graders for the arts organization Young Audiences! This is my third school year of helping elementary students become authors over these 5-part workshops.

When I was in 4th grade I was copying “Peanuts” comic strips out of the newspaper, line by line. By 5th grade I was making my own little chicken-scratch comix by folding a regular piece of typing paper in half and drawing with an over-the-counter black felt pen. My Dad copied the original for me, and I sold the black and white copies to my friends for 25 cents.

I like helping the students today do MORE than I did. I push them to really structure their ideas and practice them through three full versions of their stories (a text rough draft, a thumbnail sketch version and a finished, colored version) — I sure didn’t do multiple drafts when I was drawing “Dyno-Man and the Army of Justice!!” The good news is that their ideas are worth that work. Today I edited stories about Harriet Tubman and John Henry building a freedom railroad to the MOON and about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington arguing about where to have lunch!

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New Ideas at Williams Elementary in Virginia Beach

Written on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 [permanent link]

Every time I speak to students about my work as an author, I end the session as fired up as they are. I get a new idea, a new phrase, or a new drawing out of the brainstorming we do together, and my talk this week to fourth- and fifth-graders at Williams Elementary in Virginia Beach is a good look at how the process works. . .

First, the school purchased sets of my history comix for each classroom last spring. The teachers reported to me how excited the kids were to read them and how much their test scores improved last spring. So the audience was ready for me Tuesday! (One girl in the front row made a point to tell me, as the other students filed into the cafeteria, that her favorite title was “Slavery’s Storm.” I don’t think of that one as a feel-good favorite. But I was happy she found connection with my stories about the political and social struggles leading up to the Civil War.)

Speaking to about 200 fourth-graders in a big cafeteria is a challenge. But the microphone was great, and I could do my roaming among the rows of kids easily, peppering them with questions and trying to draw ideas with them. Here was one of my inventions for Williams: my fourth drawing in the talk is usually a drawing of me drawing a historical figure, who stands to the side and critiques my drawing. I’ve used George Washington (“My nose is NOT that big!”) and James Madison (“I am NOT that short!”) but for Williams I decided to draw Frederick Douglass and his awesome historical afro! The kids loved it — and, to my happiness, knew who Douglass was. That’s rare among American fourth-graders.

The fifth-graders in the afternoon session also threw me a curveball I’ve never faced. I put on the overhead my page about the Dred Scott decision, which features the black robe of the chief justice of the Supreme Court covering over the panels below it. I started the discussion of the page by asking, “What kind of person wears a black robe for their job?” One student said “Lincoln!” Hmmmm, he did wear a black longcoat . . . “George Washington!” Ummmm, yeah, we see him in a black heavy coat in the crossing of the Delaware, but what kind of job would a . . . “PREACHER!” Oh boy, I hadn’t thought of THAT one before!!! EXCELLENTLY broad cultural referencing there! My own preacher doesn’t wear a big robe, but many ministers in many other kids of churches do.

I laughed and then made my Judge Judy reference, and we were back on track.

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