I just got back from visits to three classes of first graders, and it was a blast! I started out by asking the children how many of them enjoy reading books or having books read with them, and in all three classes just about every hand went up immediately and enthusiastically. Then I asked how many like making pictures and looking at pictures - all hands rose. This is such a simple point, and yet it bears emphasis: kids love books. Many of them love television or movies or computer games, too, of course, but there's something special about books. Part of it is the pictures. Part of it is the sense of power and control when you first learn that you can get at a good story just about any time you want. Part of it is the encompassing warmth when someone you love is snuggled up reading to you. Part of it is the new characters, places and ideas you encounter, and part of it is the time spent with familiar and beloved stories. But all those factors and more combine to make the simple fact: Kids love books. As parents, teachers, writers, uncles and aunts and friends, we need to do whatever it takes to keep children loving books for the rest of their lives. It really shouldn't be too hard - just keep that joy coming!
This was a general talk about "Being a writer and an illustrator," so I showed the children Amazing, Beguiling, Curious first, and explained how I made my block prints. I showed them my carving tool and my brayer, and the blocks for the iguana and the nautilus. We talked about some of the animals, especially the yapok, whom I consider to be a bit of a protegé, since not too many people have ever heard of a yapok before. I certainly had never heard of it before I started researching Y animals, and goodness knows I watched enough nature programs in my youth that it isn't too often that I learn of an animal I've never even heard of before. There were a few kids with iguana stories, and a few kids who knew that kitten starts with K even though cat doesn't, and a few kids who told me about the wonderful stories they've written…
Next I brought out the Kate and Sam books. I told the children how I wrote Kate and Sam to the Rescue for my children, and they seemed to agree with P and T in the list of elements that a good book needs: children who can talk with animals, a dragon, a tiger, fairies, adventure, puzzles and mysteries to solve… There's no doubt that's good stuff, all right! Then I read some excerpts from the books, and the children laughed in all the right places, and asked all the right questions. And then it was time for me to go. (Too bad my car got sideswiped by a truck on a narrow, icy road on the drive home. Oh well. It was still worth it.)
If I dare to think big, my dream would be that three things might come out of the classroom visits this morning.
1. I want all those kids to go straight to the library and check out one of my books and read it or get it read to them!
2. I want those children to think about how books are made - that no matter how magical a book is, it's created because someone wrote down a story and someone made a picture. And I want them to consider the fact that maybe they can be a someone who does that.
3. I want to have planted a few small seeds in the back of their minds, so that some of those seeds, someday, may sprout in some of those minds and maybe remind a few children when they need the reminder… that you can do what you love and love what you do, that you can write the stories you want to read and make the beauty you want to see, and that loving art and books is something that people of every age can share.
[Pictures: Story Time, rubber block print by AEGN, 2003;
Yapok, rubber block print by AEGN, 2009;
King Doom was stuck to the sap-worm, photoshopped colored pencil on paper by AEGN, 2009, from Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom, p 43.]