by Fran Mellin
“Mrs. Mellin, who is this year’s visiting author?” is a question I hear each fall as we prepare for the annual Book Fair. Because of the dedication of our parent planning committee and the generosity of our community shoppers, we are able to bring talented authors and illustrators to Pike where they inspire our students. Here’s a look at what goes into these exciting events.
First and foremost, we want people who not only write or illustrate for kids, but who also enjoy connecting with them as well. Meeting authors personally at conferences or book signings helps us greatly! We also want to present authors who write in different genres and who represent a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. We haven’t invited a poet to Pike…let’s research poets who do school visits. Finally, we think about curriculum connections and options for customizing programs that will deepen the experience for students. For instance, by creating time for Grace Lin to meet 4th graders during her visit in 2013, we enhanced a Social Studies unit on China.
An illustrator was the clear choice this year, with the SPARK makerspace available as a workshop setting. Salem-based artist Giles Laroche, creator of stunning multi-layered illustrations, came highly recommended by colleagues, and he was available – one of the biggest hurdles! His new book features animal illustrations – a perfect fit for the Grade 2 curriculum. Now, to plan the visit! Teachers, how does a workshop sound? How long are the time slots? Division Heads, can we schedule a special assembly?
Sometimes, unexpected twists are the most rewarding. As I examined a beautifully illustrated book of found poetry, my mind jumped to the 9th grade Holocaust unit and Betsy Devries’ interest in multi-genre writing. Betsy, there is an available workshop time with our visiting illustrator…could the nines create and illustrate found poetry from their Holocaust readings? A resounding “You bet!” was the answer. Not only was Giles receptive to working with a different age group, he planned an entirely new workshop using materials that would support this assignment, and then facilitated a critique session with the students.
Here’s what Betsy had to say. “For me, it was an epiphany moment. Mr. Laroche showed the students some of his artwork and modeled the craft. Out came the straight edge rulers, the Exacto knives and magazines. The ninth graders had their poems; they had their vision. I was superfluous and happily so. I couldn’t be over their shoulder to direct them to choose this symbol or that image. Independent learners, yes, but then the students moved to helping each other and asking for peer feedback. They took charge of their own creative learning and expression, merging art, literature and history to create a true humanities project. “
Creativity, collaboration, and planning: the recipe for a fabulous author/illustrator visit. We’ve already started thinking about next year!
The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership.