Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Visit From Dan Yaccarino


Our school is becoming quite the mecca for talented children's book authors and illustrators willing to share their stories with an eager young audience.

The most recent visit occurred last week when we gleefully welcomed inspired artist and writer Dan Yaccario to our school. Over the years Dan's books have been student favorites when selecting their Top Ten books of the school year. And I have a feeling that The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, Every Friday, Lawn to Lawn and All the Way to America will be represented in the Top Ten this year.

In anticipation for his visit we created a Dan Yaccarino book bin loaded with his books and studied in-depth the life of Jacques Costeau. Lauren (my co-teacher) and I were thrilled to note that Dan has written kid-friendly nonfiction books as the current push in education (with the Common Core State Standards or CCSS) is a focus on nonfiction texts.  One student commented that The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau is a nonfiction book that looks like fiction.  This insightful comment springs from the fact that we originally categorized nonfiction texts as containing photographs and fiction, illustrations.  This comment represented her growing understanding of the nuances to be found across genres.  I mentioned her comment to Dan and he replied that this was his intention.  He is well aware of the CCSS.


Dan's visit carried the overall message of deconstructing the journey of going from a child who enjoys drawing to an adult with a plethora of published books.  Dan instilled in the children the notion that they can do anything they want to do in life, the choices are endless but underneath it all is the passion for doing what you love.  This is a message that connects with the theme of this blog and Joseph Campbell's offering - Follow Your Bliss.

At the end of his presentation Dan answered questions from our first and second grade students.  Here are some of their questions and his answers (which are not exact quotes - I can't write that fast!).

Why do you write books? 

It makes me happy.  There are stories I have inside me that I want to tell and things that interest me, like Jacques Costeau and I get to share them through my books.

How do you make books?

It starts with an idea.  First I create small drawings then expand on them with bigger drawings and paintings and then the text.  It takes almost one year to do one book sometimes.

Where do your ideas come from?

Where do you get your ideas?  From up here (pointing to his head) same as you.

Dan shared that he has drawn everyday since when he was even younger than them and encouraged the children to create their own superheros (because they wanted to know how to draw Superman and Spiderman).  Overall, this was a super-duper experience for all of us.

Below one student shares her opinion about why people should read Dan Yaccarino's books.  Notice in her drawing she shows him thinking about pictures and that the Jacques Costeau book rests on the table.

Should people read Dan Y. books? Yes! Because 1. he had beautiful colors. 2. Writes good books. 3. He thinks of pictures. 
Thank you Dan Yaccarino for taking the time to visit us!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Visit With Molly Shannon

Deliciously kooky actress, comedienne and writer Molly Shannon has added another designation to her already impressive list of credentials, that of children's book author.

Like Molly, her first children's book entitled Tilly the Trickster has a wee bit of mischief running through it.

Tilly is a young girl who enjoys making others laugh. The problem is, the target(s) of her pranks don't always share Tilly's jolly sense of amusement.

It's a slippery slope young Tilly finds herself on when she tricks her music teacher Mrs. Mooney ( I love that name. Could it be Mr. Mooney's wife from Here's Lucy?) and tastes the bitter fruit of her shenanigans.

Of course, it all works out in the end.  Well, at least...until tomorrow.

I am an unabashed fan of children's books so it comes as no surprise that I would be singing the praises of one on this blog, but I also am an old classmate of Molly's from our college days at New York University. Therefore, my endorsement comes with an added level of pride and support.

It has been over 20 years since I last saw Molly but when I spotted her at a book reading/signing at Barnes & Noble it truly felt like I was stepping easily back into the past.

It was nice to reconnect and I took the opportunity to invite her to visit my class to do a reading for my first grade students.  What children's book author doesn't enjoy getting feedback on their efforts in the form of laughter, giggles, questions and applause?

The visit hasn't happened (yet) but I remain confident that when time allows Molly will WOW the kids with Tilly the Trickster!

Click here and here to learn more about Molly and Tilly.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tips From My Mom #14

In the mid 60s, when my parents were a young couple living in the newly developed outer reaches of Long Island, times were sometimes tough.

My mom was a housewife taking care of three young boys (an active 2-year-old and adorable newborn twins ;) and often struggling to manage the finances.

Juggling bills became an art.

Sometimes all the bills were tossed in the air and the ones that landed face-down would be paid, while other months saw the bills that were current put aside so those that were late could be paid.

Yet, every month the bills relentlessly arrived in the mail.

It became a source of great worry and stress for my parents.  So, one day my dad told my mom to throw all of the bills into the fireplace.  She did.  And to her surprise...she felt better.

Over the years my mom has shared this story with us whenever something feels like it is becoming too much, when things feel out of control and cause nothing but distress.

It has become a parable for letting go of those worries because in the end "the bills" will come back next month. All we can do is control our attitude towards unpleasant things.

Like my mom, I have been surprised time and time again at the relief that comes with letting go of worry.  Disposing of the physical manifestations (such as bills) is the easy part, the trick is letting go of the worry that is less tangible.

Still, it's a start. And as I currently have some worries to toss into the fireplace I am grateful to mom once again for this valuable tip.

Let 'em burn!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Place For Young Artists

This past week we had an opportunity to visit the recently opened (as of October 1st) new home of The Children's Museum of the Arts.

And oh, what a merry string of adventures awaited us!

The inventive design includes a clay bar (it literally looks like a bar you might visit at Happy Hour but instead of sipping cocktails you'd be creating something scrumptious with your hands!), a Star Trekian-esque quiet room, a sound booth and media lab, several well-stocked, child-friendly art studios, a ball pond to frolic while inspiration and artistic ideas grow, art labs and a large, inviting gallery.

We loved it!

Our visit began with an examination of an architectural model created by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The children were invited to share their observations of this building ("it looks like a palace", "is it a castle?", "it's a tree house", "there is a shiny, gold top!") and introduced to Hunderwasser's belief that our homes should have a connection with the environment while being fun, interesting places to live.

This attitude was carried over into the planning stages as our students gathered around a large sheet of white paper to draw their vision of a building based on what they learned from this artist.

Their plans included a rooftop playground built on a curved apartment house with tunnels to bring you to an ice cream room, buildings that were connected by a large ladder that also had trees growing off the sides, curvy spectacular structures with large, wavy windows and the Twin Towers with flowers and a man walking on a tight rope between the buildings saying "yay".

By the time they entered the art studio they were well prepared to erect their constructions using Styrofoam, pipe cleaners, tape, wire, cardboard, Popsicle sticks and aluminum foil.

It was wonderful to realize, once again, how blessed we are to have such opportunities at our fingertips. Going to public school in New York City means the whole city is your classroom.  This year we already have trips scheduled to the Whitney Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jewish Museum, Lincoln Center and The New Victory Theater.

Viva La Art!

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