Last week, I celebrated the beauty of picture books in a program for three first-grade classes, in the library of Shepherd Elementary School in Washington, DC. The children were well-prepared with a love for and an excitement about picture books. Each of the classes surprised me with a dramatic, group performance of one of my poems. They used gestures and expressive vocal interpretation in presenting the poems, and the class that recited “Nathaniel’s Rap” whipped out sunglasses and put them on before reciting the poem. Cool!
I gave a brief overview of how illustrators work, that when they read a new manuscript, they “see” images and then, using their knowledge of how to create art, illustrate the book. I compared this process with the one I use in writing. I daydream and “see” characters and scenes, then use the knowledge I have acquired through the study of the craft, to write a book. This is a very simplified version of the process, but enough I think, for first-graders, in a short session.
In touching on the versatility of some illustrators, I focused on Jan Spivey Gilchrist. I showed the jackets of three of her books: The Friendly Four (watercolor); In the Land of Words: New and Selected Poems (sewn fabric); and The Great Migration: Journey to the North (collage).
Then I did my usual reading of poems, including one written by my mother, Lessie Jones Little, for her book, Children of Long Ago. As always, I used audience participation: clapping to the beat, repeating after me, jumping double-dutch with my invisible rope, all to demonstrate the poet’s intentional incorporation of meaning, melody, rhythm, etc., into the work.
We ended with questions from the children, good questions, reflecting the kinds of discussions the students had had in their classrooms and at home.
I went home happy, carrying images of these children to add to my forty-year collection of memories.
Photos by Jacqueline Taiwo Ajala
Click here to see more fun photos by Jacqueline from this event! (:3