Sunday, October 6, 2019


Every page is an opportunity to get to know our students

Little hands slide across white paper, black lines creating images that provide insight into the child's thoughts. What is going on in their lives that is yearning to be expressed in these drawings? How is this sustained concentration serving the child's need to communicate?

My kindergarten students are active, emotional, and exceedingly dramatic with short attention spans that are easily influenced by pangs of hunger, bouts of sleepiness, and intermittent moodiness. These adorable tykes are just five-years-old after all (some are still only four). But, there are two things that capture their attention - listening to stories read aloud in spoken English and American Sign Language, and independent writing.

This class loves to write!

I walk around the classroom with my team teacher, Sarah, and am fascinated by their drawings. I'm interested, of course, from a literacy perspective and in facilitating their development along the writing continuum. Yet, I'm equally fascinated by the inner workings of their stories. Every page is an opportunity to learn more about each one of them. What is happening in their lives? How are they processing the many things that are out of their control? Can they tell me about the pictures? Do they have the language skills to do this or must I carefully navigate and scaffold my questions to bridge that divide?

Here are a few examples...

"That's me moving into my new house."

This is a joyful example of what is either real or imagined for a young boy who has had to deal with some unfortunate challenges. His vibrant smile and animated tone as he explained how his whole family was moving into a new house brought hope. I saw in this unfinished drawing that his mind is grappling with things far more immediate than letters and numbers. Teachers are called on to do more than simply impart information. We are caretakers, advocates, and champions. We are here for him.

"Mommy has a baby inside"

This girl's drawings depict the very imminent arrival of a new sibling. The smiles and hearts let me know it is a happy occasion for her family. The "baby inside" (not sure why there are two in this drawing) is an adorable representation. I remember creating similar drawings when I was 7-years-old and my mom was pregnant with my sister, Jennifer.

A flower monster

I sat next to this child and asked about his drawing. He told me, "It's a flower monster." How deliciously complicated, I thought. Juxtaposing the gentleness of flowers with the scariness of a monster seemed brilliant. He is certainly not the first person to invent such a thing, but the vibrancy in the expression cannot be denied. And he made it into a book! That'd be a cool children's book - the fragrant, misunderstood monster dropping petals and drooping every so often.

There are many, many more to share and more are created every day. And I am honored to have the opportunity to sit next to these children and say, "Tell me about your drawing".

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Fan Brothers

Cover art for Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

I am continually gobsmacked by the breathtaking beauty that is the art of The Fan Brothers. It boggles my mind that these two can continue to create visual masterpieces book after book. When I was young I used to hang album covers on my bedroom walls, now I'm inclined to hang their gorgeous book covers. Luckily, there are classroom displays!

It isn't only the illustrations that appeal to me - it's the stories they tell as well. Ocean Meets Sky takes on the heavy topic of losing a loved one. The writing is tender and as embracing as the magical illustrations. Together they let the reader - both young and old - know that the world is full of possibilities. There is magic to be found in our dreams and that magic can sooth and comfort us.

Our loved ones are never really very far away (illustration from Ocean Meets Sky)

I am so excited to include Ocean Meets Sky in my Broadway Books First Class program this year. In fact, this is the third title by The Fan Brothers showcased in the program. In Year One I selected The Night Gardener to be read aloud by two-time Tony Award nominee Alison Fraser.

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers
The Night Gardener was the first of their books to catch my attention. Once again, it is the play of light that whisks us away to an ethereal landscape wherein loss and loneliness (it takes place in and around an orphanage) is supplanted by hope and possibility.

This is a gentle mystery that finds its answer in the quiet of the night, underneath the omnipresent moon.  It's a celebration of altering one's perspective and seeing the magic in bringing people together. This wonderous book had me seeing figures in all of the trees as I walked along the towpath with my Saint Bernards. Like Ocean Meets Sky, it stays with you.

The early cover of The Darkest Dark 
I'm told there is a glow-in-the-dark edition
The following year the moon was back with The Darkest Dark (illustrated by The Fan Brothers and written by Astronaut Chris Hadfield). I was lucky enough to have three-time Tony Award Nominee Mary Testa read this book aloud to my first graders.

It a story of a boy who overcomes his fear of the dark to travel into space. Well, when he grows up. There are dynamic illustrations draped in shadows with that pervasive blue reserved for dark moonlight nights. It is the play of light in all of their books that I find so intriguing. It embodies the feel of William Blake's illuminated printing technique (for me, anyway). The images glow from underneath, almost as if they are being viewed on a light table...truly fascinating.

A page from The Darkest Dark illustrated by The Fan Brothers

Last month The Fan Brothers and Beth Ferry came out with The Scarecrow. It is a story of an unlikely friendship (follow the link to read some of the glowing reviews). I ordered my copy today and have a strong feeling it is going to be an October pick for Year Six of my program.

High-quality picture books are essential for early childhood educators. It is how we invite children into the world of imagination and words. We can discuss sensitive themes, develop receptive and expressive language, and stir up excitement and awe.

Books provide wonder that is quite impossible to capture the same way using any other medium. They say so much, yet leave so much unsaid. There is room to rummage around and connect in deeply personal ways. The Fan Brothers are at the top of their game and I look forward to seeing where they'll take me - and my students - next.

An evocative illustration from The Scarecrow 
Check out prints by Terry Fan and Eric Fan by clicking the links on their names.  Also, follow Terry and Eric on Instagram and find them on Facebook.  Purchase their books on Amazon or in any bookstore and let me know what you think.


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