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.

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