Monthly Archives: June 2014

Reading Aloud

mother readingJPG

Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve my mom reading aloud to me and to my older brother and sister, John and Mary. At first, it was nursery rhymes and the poems of Eugene Field and Robert Louis Stevenson. Later came  Little Golden Books illustrated by Garth Williams. Once I hit elementary school, the “chapter books” (the phrase still thrills me) started: All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor turned me into a New-York-ophile for life.  Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater made me realize adults could be foolish dreamers, too; Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink helped me weather the world as a tomboy; Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis taught me how big – and small – the world was, Rifles for Watie  by Harold Keith – oh, Rifles for Watie! Mom cried, I cried, everybody cried.

Jesse Wilcox Smith

Jesse Wilcox Smith

Bedtime – time to read the next chapter! And when the chapter was finished, it was “Sleep tight,” and then the light were turned off. I fell asleep dreaming I was a soldier spy, I was a girl dancing at a hoedown, I was riding in a Chinese junk on a yellow river half-way around the world.

sant_fairy_tale

James Sant – “The Fairy Tale”

Bob Bloyd, my 6th-grade teacher at Booksin Elementary School in San Jose, California, also read aloud to the class each day – usually right before we got dismissed. He sent us home with the stories of Mark Twain, Jack London and Rudyard Kipling echoing around in our heads.  Since then I’ve always kept a short list of “People Who Can Read Me to Sleep” – usually well-known people whose voices appeal to me: James Earl Jones, of course; Jeremy Irons, who made the list after I listened to him read “Lolita”; Paul Auster, whose voice is smooth as butter; Seamus Heaney, with his Irish lilt; and (my personal favorite) Shelby Foote – I could listen to his soft voice forever (when you have time, take in this series of interviews of Foote talking about his childhood, especially what he says about his teachers in Video #3.)

The sound of a voice that transports you to other worlds….that’s what I wanted to give my children, and – I admit – I did it just as much for myself as for them, because I loved the way time slowed down at bedtime – there was nothing more enjoyable. And now my daughter is reading aloud each night to my grandson. He started early with books.

Jackson Reading Books

Now, seven years later and headed for second grade, he’s moved from picture books over to middle grade fiction.  Some of the bedtime stories his mom is reading to him  are old-fashioned  – Half-Magic by Edward Eager, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. These older books beg to be read aloud, since quick explanations (about words and word usage) help grease the gears and keep things running smoothly. My grandson enjoyed those two books as much as he enjoyed Harry Potter, and I ‘m positive that the pleasure came from the stories being shared with his mom.  I know that when I read Alice in Wonderland to my kids, we enjoyed it most because we were laughing together when the wordplay got silliest. Laughter shared with a child is so delicious.

Now the New York Times reports that the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that parents read aloud with their children. It’s sad to think that hasn’t been done before – what were they waiting for? But I’m not going to get crabby.  I’m just going to say “Hooray! ”

716px-Cassatt_Mary_Nurse_Reading_to_a_Little_Girl_1895

Mary Cassatt

For a look at the read-aloud moment with a slightly different twist, follow this link to Cody Walker’s wonderful post at The Kenyon Review, in which he talks about reading The Science Times aloud to his 7-month-old daughter.

Mother Reading to Children

James Shannon

 

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Maplewood Elementary Fourth Grade Writing Club

In April, I wrote here about my plans to lead a writing club for fourth graders at Maplewood Elementary in Edmonds. For a month, 16 or so kids gave up their Monday and Tuesday lunch recesses to participate.

The results were impressive. I was astounded at what these kids could create in a half hour session. I loved their open willingness to dive in and write.

One of the exercises we tried was sent by Terry Pierce, UCLA-ext. writing teacher: author Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry Jam Workshop. We turned it into a three-parter. I will use the work of Maplewood student Damaris I. — with her permission and her parents’ permission — to illustrate our experience.

We began by painting to music. My friend, pianist Julan Chu, suggested Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Perfect! Mussorgsky wrote this composition in 1874, after viewing the retrospective art show of a deceased friend. It offers yet another layer of cross-arts jam.

We set up all my paint palettes and laid out brushes on the library tables. The kids listened carefully to the music and responded with paintings.

DI.painting

Damaris’ painting, created to Mussorgsky’s music.

At our next meeting, we spread out the paintings and the kids walked around the tables, post-its in hand. They gave each other words suggested by the paintings.

DI.words

Damaris was given these words: splatter (to which she rhymed matter), colorful, explosion, mixed, whispy, wocky, very green, grassy, wonderland, big and new, magic, magic spell, wet, mystical, mystery, misty, green mist

The third part was to turn those words into a poem or prose piece of writing.

DI.poem

Damaris wrote: “A green mist rose from a magic spell. The land would be mixed the forest could tell. Then a explosion arose, and everything was misty. The sky turned gray, and the trees became whispy. Everything was a mystery, with tons of spatter, and nothing knew what could be the matter. When the mist cleared, the woods were wet. Everything changed, a whole new set. The forest was grassy, mystical too, a great wonderland, big and new.

The writing was amazing, as you can see: pieces of writing that began as a painting exhibition that inspired Mussorgsky’s music that inspired our student paintings that inspired words, then poems. Round and round the arts we go.

Next time I feel like there is not enough time to sit down and dig into writing, I will think back to those lunch recess meetings of the Maplewood Fourth Grade Writing club and get started.

I want to add a shout out to Mr. B., aka librarian Paul Borchert, who also gave up his lunch recesses and helped in every way to make our writing club so wonderful. More thanks to Terry and Jill and Julan and Damaris — and to Betsy Britton and Grabrielle Catton who carried on for Paul and me the day we were both unable to teach.

Here’s a link to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXy50exHjes&feature=kp

And here are the writing exercise instructions:

Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry-Jam Workshop:
Suggested grades: 2 – 5
Time required: 1 hour
Supplies needed: Boom box with selected music, 11” x 17” white paper, crayons, pencils, Post-it notes, scotch tape
1. Briefly discuss the power of art, music and poetry to evoke emotion.
2. Pass out 11” x 17” piece of white paper and crayons to each student.
3. Have students listen to music for several minutes and then draw whatever the music makes them feel. (I play about 4-5 minutes of music)
4. Pass out a pad of Post-it notes and a pencil to each student and have them form a line to walk around the room and look at each picture.
5. At each picture, the students write the first word that comes to their minds on the sticky paper. They leave that word with the picture. Instruct the students not to write words like “cool” or “fun,” but to write nouns, verbs or strong adjectives.
6. The students then return to their pictures to find 20+ words written by their fellow students.
7. With their words and pictures in front of them, and the music playing once again, students create a poem from the words they have been given. (Once their poems are finished, have each student tape their Post-it-notes poem to the back of their picture. Otherwise the notes tend fall off.)
8. Ask the students to read their poems aloud. At the end of the hour, each student has created a poem that reflects the music they encountered, the art this music evoked from them and the words their art evoked in others.

Pencils, Pens and Brushes

Recently a friend suggested that I consider working on some of my illustrations in photoshop for the ease of trying out different solutions to a problem. I saw her point, but I prefer the point of a pencil, or the flow of a pen.

paschkis inko

When I am illustrating or painting I start with an idea in my head. But once I start working on it other things kick in – my hand and the materials with which I am working. A line drawn with a pencil is different than line drawn with a brush. A line drawn with my hand is different than a line drawn in my head. Although a computer can recreate the looks of various media, I want the physical experience of interacting with real materials. I want to eat paper and drink ink.

Ink leads to scratches and blots, like this gongozzler by Ben Shahn.

ben shahn ounce dice trice

Ink leads to elegant script and crosshatching as in this drawing by Saul Steinberg.

steinberg nose

…or to elegant script and scratchy lines as in this Pennsylvania Fraktur for a Sam Book (psalm book) from 1809.

fraktur

Ink is tempting, as in this drawing by John Coates.

John coates

A pencil will take you to an entirely different place.

Paschkis Point

Saul Steinberg‘s pencil still life feels intimate, yet airy.

steinberg still life

Garth Williams illustration has warmth, weight and softness.

garthwilliams

James Edward Deeds ( 1908 – 1987) was an inmate of State Hospital #3 in Nevada, Missouri. He was also known as the Electric Pencil. He left behind an amazing trove of subtle and haunting pencil drawings.

edwarddeeds2

edwarddeeds Don’t miss the upper left corner of Rebel Girl…edward deeds rebel girl

I want to make art, but I don’t want to be the total master of the material. I want to see where the brush or pen or pencil will take me.

Paschkis brush

Paschkis word bird

P.S. Here is a pencil poem by Todd Boss which I first saw on Julie Larios’s blog, the Drift Record.

todd boss poem

Days o’ The Week

Days o the week pattern

Routines don’t seem to be part of my genetic coding. My brain must be lacking the necessary programing that makes repetition easy and comfortable. I can do it, but it doesn’t come naturally.

Unlike my husband, who gets up in the morning and proceeds with his usual, ordered, getting-ready-for-work tasks, I get up, and invariably think, What now? Should I take a shower first, or go get some breakfast? Or maybe I could read a bit more in that book I started last night before I get up… There are so many possibilities.

Maybe being self-employed and able to set my own schedule is responsible for this deficiency, or maybe my inability to naturally settle into a routine is why I’m self-employed.

It’s different when I am working on a book contract or illustration job (when I know exactly what I need to do each day – work till the project is done), but right now I don’t have any deadlines pending, so when I get to my workspace, I often can’t decide what to do first. I should probably work on that story idea I’ve been playing with, but working on that print I started last week is so much more fun than writing, but I also want to decorate this box I have with cuttings from old cookie tins… Sometimes I feel like I flit around my studio like a butterfly in a rose garden.

This is not something I am proud of, or even particularly happy about. I envy people who don’t have to think so hard about how to proceed with their day.

For example, consider the early American settlers (well, the women anyway) who followed the prescribed adage that divided their existence into seven tasks, one for each day of the week:

 

Monday = Wash

Tuesday = Iron

Wednesday = Sew

Thursday = Market

Friday = Clean

Saturday = Bake

Sunday = Rest

 

Iowa State historical society

Granted, that was a time when doing the wash took from dawn till dusk, and this arduously tedious life was probably not terribly fun, but can you imagine having only seven things to worry about accomplishing each week? No emails to answer, no dance lessons or soccer practice to take your kids to, no meetings to prepare for and attend. And a whole day set aside just to relax, without your needing to feel guilty that you aren’t being more productive.

I’ve been thinking about this idea – having one chore for each day of the week – but instead of household duties, I wonder if I could organize it to be a more work-related guideline for someone like me, who has a lot of creative things I want to do, and even more that I should be doing, but who has difficulty making decisions and getting into a regular routine.

So, how about a week that looks like this?

 

Monday = Write

Tuesday = Draw

Wednesday = Design

Thursday = Make

Friday = Sell

Saturday = Read

Sunday = Rest

 

Only one task per day, like a pioneer woman who has to sweat away at drafting her designs before sunset. I will still have to figure out how to still get all my emails answered and errands run and meetings attended, plus the other twenty-three items on my to-do list – not to mention housework! – but maybe I’ll try this new schedule out, at least during my usual working hours.

Simplify. Concentrate. Limitations can be useful. Narrow walls make it easier to focus straight ahead.

Is this idea even possible in our modern, hectic world? Am I crazy to attempt such a strict regimen considering the lack of imposed structure I am used to?

We’ll see. I’m not going to start embroidering it on any tea towels quite yet…

Sunday dishtowel detail