Friday, November 21, 2014

Deirdre Gill & Jason Chin Part II: Activities

On Saturday, November 15th, the author-illustrators Jason Chin (Gravity, Redwoods, Island, Coral Reefs) and Deirdre Gill (debut picture book Outside) joined our author series to talk about how they're inspired by nature and in turn translate that inspiration into picture books that encourage young readers to explore the outdoors. See Part I here.

Many parts of the processes author-illustrators Jason Chin and Deirdre Gill follow to create their picture books also translate into activities that work for students, teaching writing and drawing skills, as well as science.

Making Visual Analogies
The last post discussed how Jason worked to find visual comparisons to help his readers understand  unfamiliar places and things, such as comparing the statue of liberty to a redwood tree to describe the tree's height. When he visits classrooms with his books, he often sees that they've taken their own visual approaches to conveying information about the places described in his books.

In one school, a class turned the entry to their classroom into a redwood trunk - both a fun project and also a chance to show how wide a redwood grows, as they measured off the diameter of their constructed tree. Other classrooms used Jason's Coral Reefs, which describes the different parts of a coral reef, as the foundation for projects. One teacher built a representation of the reef structure, and students used clay to first create creatures that you would find in a reef, and then put their figures in the appropriate parts of the larger reef. Another class did the same but with a mural of a reef where students illustrated different sections. Taking time to recreate this ecosystem also gives time to ask questions about it and wonder (then discover) how the different parts fit together.

Practicing Close Observation through Drawing

On the topic of creating creatures, Jason brings both a sketch book and camera on all his research trips. Photos capture details to be examined later, but drawing is a way to observe closely and build rich memories of what he's seeing. Plus, it doesn't have to be great art - he's learning through the process of creating the pictures. Anyone can use drawing to focus themselves on careful observation of an object or place. For another example, check out these sketches (sets one and two) from Katherine Roy, made in the Museum of Natural History. Katherine, author of Neighborhood Sharks is coming to talk more about research + drawing in February.

From Katherine Roy's sketch book - her next picture book is about elephants

Taking a Creative Look at Common Objects

Deirdre's work writing Outside included more than thirty drafts and thousands of sketches. It also offers a great example of combining unfettered creativity and critical thinking about the craft of writing and illustrating.

One core part of Deirdre's work was transforming familiar objects outside into something magical. In this case the snowy landscape, but the same could be done for any month of the year. And you don't need a few thousand sketches to simply play around with this concept of making something magical from something ordinary. In fact, it doesn't even need to be drawing - the snow castle in Deirdre's book began as clay and her book launch party included crafting snow creatures from soap.


Using Pictures to Plot a Story
Deirdre's work figuring out the story for her book echoed what we've heard in earlier writing workshops. For example, she began with two ideas: remembering what she loved from playing in the snow as a child and the character of a boy who wants to get his family's attention. The boy wanting to get attention provided tension, which she knew propelled the story, but it became distracting from what she wanted to accomplish with providing a sense of wonder and that ". . .the quiet possibilities of playing outside are endless. . .there is magic in being outside." Hence the many drafts as she found the right balance for her starting concept.

Deirdre used sketches to figure out the balance and rhythm of her story. Some of her drawings were practice in creating the images she wanted, some were quick thumbnails figuring out the pacing of the book. We've seen that use of sketches for pacing even in books that include no pictures at all. For example, last spring Jo Knowles shared her exercises for plotting her own young adult novels using  pictures. Her example also demonstrated you don't need to be great at drawing to benefit from the practice of drawing scenes from your story (Jo said that, not us, we're sure she could be a great illustrator if she put her mind to it. . . )

All of the authors who have spoken in our series have their own take on tools to connect with kids to help them both remember information and feed the curiosity to discover more. They all share common elements of telling stories and creating emotional connections. We'll collect everyone's ideas next month in our end of year review blog posts.

Don't forget, our author-educator speaker series starts up again in 2015 with Laurel Neme (Orangutan Houdini, Animal Investigators and contributor to National Geographic) on January 24th at 11:00 am talking about creating global connections in the classroom.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Deirdre Gill & Jason Chin - Creating Stories that Explore Nature

On Saturday, November 15th, the author-illustrators Jason Chin (Gravity, Redwoods, Island, Coral Reefs) and Deirdre Gill (debut picture book Outside) joined our author series to talk about how they're inspired by nature and in turn translate that inspiration into picture books that encourage young readers to explore the outdoors. 

Deirdre Gill's first picture book, Outside, tells the story of a bored little boy who can't convince his family to pay attention to him and so he goes outside. . . where he creates adventures for himself. Her one-sentence summary "A lonely boy steps outside to play in the snow and finds magic, in the end his brother joins him and the adventures start anew."

She began her book with a memory of how it felt to play outside in the snow when she was a kid. The W.B. Yeats quote in the opening pages, which she kept at her desk while creating the book, captures the spirit of that memory:

The world is full of magic things,
Patiently waiting
For our senses to grow sharper.

Deirdre wanted to communicate the emotions of being outside through her pictures - filling notebooks with over 5,000 sketches as she explored characters, setting, and how that setting transforms in the boy's imagination to a land of snow creatures, dragons, and castles. She used photographs, a clay model of the castle the boy builds, and a lot of just trying out different approaches to create the world of her book.

Actual tree
Actual Tree
Snow Creature Tree
The feedback that Deirdre is getting from teachers, and from educators in our audience Saturday, is that the idea her book captures of kids' free time to go outside and just explore the natural world is essential to overall learning. Sometimes that free outdoors time becomes lost in our daily schedules.

While Deidre began with a familiar place for her wintertime landscape, Jason's books have focused on places far away from his childhood experience, like the redwood forests, Galapagos Islands, and coral reefs. (Technically the gravity in Gravity was part of his childhood experience). That meant he faced the challenge of starting with a topic that interested him but that he didn't necessarily know much about, traveling to that place and learning about it, then translating that back to children who probably have never visited those places themselves.

Jason got the idea for his first book from reading about scientists studying the redwoods. He was reading an article on a NYC subway train - the boy in his book has a similar experience, finding a book about redwoods on the subway. But when the fictional boy steps out of his subway stop, he's been transported to the redwood forest. After Jason got a contract for this book, he and Deirdre traveled west to visit the redwoods. Their campsite flooded and in the morning, after the rains, the forest was filled with mist and felt mysterious and ancient and magical. Jason tried to capture those feelings in the illustrations of the book, alongside descriptions of the science.

When Jason visits a place, he absorbs the details through both taking photographs and drawing observations in his sketch book (a sketch from the Galapagos Islands is featured below). The sketch book isn't a place to create a perfect picture of what he sees - the process of drawing means that he's paying close attention to his environment and developing a rich memory of it.

To communicate these experiences back to his readers, Jason looks for ways to connect to kids' broader experience. So, for example, he used the Statue of Liberty as a visual comparison to the height of a redwood (FYI - the tree is six stories taller). That analogy offers a specific, concrete connection. The framework of  Redwoods - the book within a book - also establishes a connection with any child who reads about a place and imagines they're there. For his book about the Galapagos (Island) Jason built the framework of the island as a character. The book then follows that character through birth, childhood, adulthood and old age. He says he knew he'd succeeded in connecting with his readers through that parallel when one student explained how sad he felt when the Island sank.

The strategies Jason uses to create his books add up to an ability to not only talk about a specific place, but also explain larger theories. The ages of the island, for example, help kids (and adults) conceptualize 6 million years. His newest book, Gravity, tackles a truly abstract scientific idea while it uses pictures of a series of objects falling (or not falling) to tell a visual story. Readers can follow the objects from a starting scene of a child on a beach through the pages (and through outer space) to the final scene of children at a lemonade stand.

Many of the tools that Jason and Deirdre use to create their stories can also translate into activities that anyone can learn from. We pick up that part of the story in Part 2 of this post

Previous articles about this event provide more background information on the work of Jason and Deirdre, and a list of recommended picture books that are inspired by nature.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Inspired By Nature

Thinking of Jason Chin and Deirdre Gill's workshop on exploring nature with picture books (Saturday 11:00 am) we've been looking through other nature-inspired picture books. Here's a list of some of Jane's favorites - there are a lot of exceptional books out there. If you want a top recommendations list, check out the books featured on our Pinterest Board.

And, of course, join us Saturday for a great workshop!

Arnosky, Jim
q  Crinkleroot’s Guide to Giving Back to Nature
q  Jim Arnosky’s Wild World
q  Every Autumn Comes the Bear
q  and many more….

Aston, Dianna Hutts
q  A Butterfly Is Patient
q  An Egg Is Quiet
q  A Seed Is Sleepy
q  A Rock Is Lively

Bang, Molly
q  Buried Sunlight

Bass, Jennifer Vogel
q  Edible Colors

Berger, Carin
q  The Little Yellow Leaf
q  A Perfect Day

Bryan, Ashley
q  Ashley Bryan’s Puppets (this book was featured in a Childrens' Room blog post by Jane)

Burns, Loree Griffin
q  Citizen Scientists
q  Tracking Trash
q  Handle With Care

Campbell, Sarah
q  Mysterious Patterns (this book had a brief review in our follow up to the Materials Review)

Davies, Nicola
q  Tiny Creatures (this book was featured in our October Materials Review)
q  Outside Your Window
q  Extreme Animals
q  One Tiny Turtle
q  and many more…

Ehlert, Lois
q  Leaf Man
q  Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf
q  Planting a Rainbow
q  and many more…

Gray, Rita
q  Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?

Holland, Mary
q  Naturally Curious

Jenkins, Steve
q  Creature Features
q  Eye To Eye
q  Actual Size
q  and many more…

Johnson, Rebecca
q  When Lunch Fights Back (this book was featured in our October Materials Review)

Johnston, Tony
q  Winter Is Coming
q  Sequoia
q  The Barn Owls

Judge, Lita
q  Born In the Wild
q  Bird Talk
q  Born To Be Giants

Kim, Soyeon
q  You Are Stardust

MacLachlan, Patricia
q  The Iridescence of Birds

McDonnell, Patrick
q  Me, Jane

Messner, Kate (who led a writing workshop here, March 2014)
q  Over and Under the Snow

Muth, Jon
q  Hi, Koo!

Neme, Laurel (Laurel will be speaking in our author-educator series January 24th)
q  Orangutan Houdini (this book was featured in our October Materials Review)

Montgomery, Sy
q  Chasing Cheetahs
q  Saving the Ghost of the Mountain
q  and many more…

Perkins, Lynne Rae
q  Nuts To You

Rocco, John
q  Blizzard

Roy, Katherine (Katherine will be speaking in February, date tbd)
q  Neighborhood Sharks (see our extended review of this book here)

Sayre, April Pulley
q  Eat Like a Bear
q  Vulture View
q  Raindrops Roll
q  and many more

Schafer, Lola
q  Lifetime

Sidman, Joyce
q  Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold
q  Swirl By Swirl
q  Red Sings From Treetops
q  and many more…

Snow, Virginia Brimhall
q  Fall Walk
q  Winter Walk

Wheeler, Eliza
q  Miss Maple’s Seeds

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Jason Chin and Deirdre Gill - Saturday, November 15th, 11:00 am

On November 15th, we're continuing our Author-Educator Series with picture book author-illustrators Jason Chin and Deirdre Gill. They'll be talking about nature in picture books, including their process for depicting nature, engaging children in learning about and exploring nature, and also classroom activities.

Jason Chin is the author and illustrator of many picture books, including Gravity, Redwoods, Island and Coral Reef. His picture books are reminiscent of David Weisner-- in Coral Reefs we journey from reading a book about coral reefs to becoming part of the ecosystem itself, swimming among the creatures of the deep. Chin grew up in Lyme, NH, where as a child he became acquainted with Trina Schart Hyman, and eventually she became his mentor. Articles highlighting his work include:

Artist Deirdre Gill has recently launched her picture book career with Outside, which received a starred review in Kirkus. Kirkus writes "Readers will want to reread the simple but meaningful text and bask again in the glorious illustrations of this splendid debut." You can get a sense of Deirdre's illustrating style from the portfolio linked from her website here.

Jason and Deirdre come to the Children's Room on Saturday, November 15th from 11:00 - Noon. This event is free, and while it's designed for educators, anyone interested is more than welcome to join us. Certificates of attendance will be available for participants who can use them for continuing education credit.

To see earlier events in the series this year, check out this article on the Nonfiction Materials Review and this article on S.S. Taylor's Writing Workshop. To receive a twice-monthly newsletter with upcoming events, updates on previous events, and educator-related announcements, e-mail helen -at- with "Subscribe to Educators List" in the subject.