Category Archives: Arts In Education

Young Readers and Young Writers

BBC YWA Clare at balcony

Last Spring my youngest daughter submitted a short story to the inaugural Young Writers Award competition, hosted by BBC and Booktrust. Young people aged 14 to 18 who live in the UK were invited to submit short stories of up to 1000 words on any topic. A panel of three judges selected the shortlist of stories demonstrating original and exciting writing that “captures the reader.”

It was recently announced that Clare’s story was one of five to make it on the shortlist,  from over 1,000 submissions. I was thrilled. I was also incredibly pleased and impressed that she had the confidence to submit her story in the first place. It is so easy to talk oneself out of trying.

On October 6th, the five young authors were given a tour of the BBC studios. As mother/chaperone, I got to tag along. It was exciting to see the BBC hive buzzing, and I enjoyed meeting the other kids and chatting with their parents. There were some notable artefacts on display as well.

BBC Dalek

In the evening, we attended the exclusive live broadcast event at the BBC Radio Theatre.

BBC YWA screen

We were joined there by my husband and two special friends – Julie Paschkis and her husband Joe Max Emminger! – who had just flown in from Seattle for a visit. Brennig Davies won the Young Authors award (the prize is mentoring sessions with Matt Haig, one of the judges). The winner of the Adult Short Story Award, Jonathan Buckley, was also announced. There was a reception afterwards, where authors young and old,  publishers, agents, broadcasters, and proud parents, mingled. It was all pretty cool.

The evening was a celebration of stories and writing, but it was one event of many in a country where writing, and reading, are highly valued and celebrated.

I see people reading books everywhere I go here in London. On the train or sitting in the park. The mere fact that over a thousand teenagers submitted stories to this new competition is noteworthy. I also learned from the other parents that there are a number of writing competitions around the U.K. every year. While I don’t like the idea of writing as a competitive sport, I still think that this indicates an appreciation for the skills involved. British culture seems to recognise that young readers are also valuable as young writers, encouraging them at an early stage to put themselves forward.

BBC National Short Story Awards 2015, New Broadcasting House, London

If you would like to read Clare’s submission along with the other runners-up, and hear Sir Ian McKellen read “Skinning”, the winning story by Brennig Davies, go here. And here is the shortlist of the adult entries which include stories by Mark Haddon and Hilary Mantel.

Even though Clare’s story didn’t win, the experience got her thinking more seriously about her writing. I am encouraging her to keep honing her skills, not for the purpose of entering more writing competitions, but to enjoy the success of making good stories even better.

Julie and Margaret in Fosters

And it’s been great showing Julie around London!

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.


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.


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.


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:

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.

Back To School

Paschkis ABCXYZ

I haven’t been a full time student for more than 30 years. I haven’t been a full time teacher for 20. But September still feels like the beginning of a new year. It’s time for a fresh start; it’s time to go back to school.
Here are some images for your edification, whether or not September brings you back to a school building.

This alphabet come from ABZ, edited by Julian Rothenstein.

ABZ Alphabet

But where did B,C and F (and many other letters) go?
Maybe they are dancing.
This Czech Modernist alphabet was designed by Karel Teige in 1935.

Czech modernist B

czech modernist F

Saul Steinberg took the alphabet for a walk in 1965:

Steinberg 1965

What to do with the alphabet? Make words.
These illustrations are from The Infant’s Alphabet of 1822:

The ArticlesNouns: An Infant's Alphabet 1822

Or perhaps you would like to learn French. These pages are from an 1814 primer painted for Alfred Bourdier de Beauregard by his uncle Arnaud.

for Alfred Bourdier de Beauregard

1814 French Primer

No education is complete without math and science. Number Friends was published in 1927.

Number Friends 1927

This Edible Frog is from The Art of Instruction, published by Chronicle Books. It is not a scratch and sniff poster and does not include the smell of formaldehyde.

Edible Frog

All learning needs to be synthesized. Here are two helpful pictures painted by Saul Steinberg in 1959.

Saul Steinberg 1959

Steinberg 1959

And how to end this post? With proper punctuation, of course. This is from the Good Child’s Book of Stops, published in 1825.


O, A-mazz-ing

What is a book without a reader?
It could be a doorstop, an aspiration, dry paper.


What is a book with a reader?
It can be a living thing, a friend, the start of a conversation.

1825 Punctuation in Verse

This week I was lucky to be part of two communities of readers where books are opened, explored, read, shared and celebrated.

On Monday I was a guest speaker at Oakland University in Michigan, where Dr. Linda Pavonetti and Jim Cipielewski run an amazing program. On Tuesday I spoke at the summer conference at the Mazza Museum of Findlay University in Ohio, which is well run by Ben Sapp.

In both places I felt deeply appreciated for what I do – in fact I felt like Cinderella at the ball.

Paschkis, mazza, oakland ball

In both places I was inspired by the work of other authors and illustrators. Oakland had an exhibit of Ashley Bryan‘s work, including sketches, prints and paintings.

Ashley Bryan Mountain

At the Mazza Museum I saw original art from Maud and Miska Petersham, Wanda Gag and scores of more recent artists, such as Chris Raschka, who will be speaking at Mazza today.

gag, raschka

Jon Klassen was leaving as I arrived ( and yes, he had his hat). James Dean spoke about the origins of Pete the Cat. Michael Hall gave an elegant presentation which made me see shapes and letters in different ways.

dean, klassen, hall

I felt especially lucky to meet and hear Ed Young who spoke about his life and work with candor, calm, wisdom and grace.

Ed Young, Julie Paschkis photo by Barbara Katz

When I create a book I start my work alone. I collaborate with many others along the way. But the final collaboration with the reader is often abstract. It was a pleasure to be among readers, teachers, students and librarians who care so much about children’s books and who share that passion with the world.

paschkis penguin

Now I am home from the ball. Unlike Cinderella, my daily life is pretty good. But the memories of Oakland and Mazza will  feed me as I get back to work.

Paschkis glass slipper ball

A Window on a Doorway to a Launching Pad

I’m pretty busy these days working on the art for Boom Boomso I am re-posting a piece that I wrote for my other blog, Pebbles In The Jar, a site I created to be a resource and forum for people interested in connecting public schools to the arts community. I have worked as a volunteer arts liaison in Seattle public schools since 2000, when my eldest daughter started first grade.

This is one of my favorite posts that I’ve published to date, largely because it grew out of a conversation I had with my dad about his experience of the arts in education when he was a teenager in New York. I couldn’t help but compare it to the situation I’ve observed in schools here in Seattle.

I’m lucky that my father got the encouragement in the arts when he did. He went on to study ceramics at Alfred University, where he eventually met my mother.

A Window on a Doorway to a Launching Pad

A long time ago in a school district far, far away…

Well not that far away really, just the Bronx.

At the beginning of World War II, when New York was still heating up the melting pot of immigrant cultures that would define the five boroughs, my father started his Freshman year at DeWitt Clinton High School, class of ’45.

My father’s father had come alone from Russia at fourteen, eventually finding steady work in the garment district in New York City. His family lived in a one bedroom apartment in the Amalgamated Co-op on Van Cortlandt Park South. My dad and his older brother shared the bedroom. Their parents slept in the living room on a Riviera hide-away bed.

The DeWitt Clinton student body at that time drew from the immigrant families who lived in the neighborhood; largely Eastern European Jews but also Italians and Irish as well as black students coming up from Harlem–thousands of them pouring out of the Mosholu Parkway station on the Lexington Avenue line every morning.

As my father describes it, DeWitt Clinton was an all college-bound high school. When he attended, there were over ten thousand students, all boys. I have his Arista pin, signifying his membership in a city-wide honors society which came with enviable perks like unmonitored access to the hallways between classes.

In addition to the core curriculum of math, language, science, history and English at this college-prep, ethnically diverse, public high school, students at DeWitt Clinton also had a full spectrum of arts classes to choose from. These included drawing and painting, theater, choir, band, and sculpture. My father particularly enjoyed sculpture.

They also apparently used what we now refer to as arts integration. My father’s Sophomore English class studied “Macbeth” with each student being given lines to memorize and recite. My father’s assignment was Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy. “Come to my woman’s breast and take my milk for gall.” I’m quoting my father, not Shakespeare. He still remembers a few choice bits.

And then there is The Magpie, DeWitt Clinton’s student literary magazine.

Read this for example, written by a young James Baldwin, ’42,

Black Girl Shouting

Stomp my feet
An’ clap my han’s
Angels comin’
To dese fair lan’s.

Cut my lover
Off dat tree!
Angels comin’
To set me free.

Glory, glory,
To de Lamb
Blessed Jesus
Where’s my man?

Black girl, whirl
Your torn, red dress
Black girl, hide
Your bitterness.

Black girl, stretch
Your mouth so wide.
None will guess
The way he died

Turned your heart
To quivering mud
While your lover’s
Soft, red blood

Stained the scowling
Outraged tree.
Angels come
To cut him free!

The Magpie, Winter 1942, v. 26, n. 1, p. 32.

And look at this illustration by his brother John Baldwin, ’40.

A Stroll Down Broadway, End Paper (Part 1) January 1940 issue

And this image by Robert Blackburn, ’38,

School Yard, p 21. 20.

James Baldwin served as The Magpie’s literary editor for a time. Richard Avedon was his buddy. Neil Simon was there then too, probably wandering the hallways wearing his Arista pin.

Countee Cullen, Will Eisner, Avery Fisher, Paddy Chayefsky, Frank Gilroy, Fats Waller–DeWitt Clinton has graduated an amazing list of illustrious people, as well as my father, who went on to become a high school and then a community college teacher in both ceramics and math.

Keep in mind that this was the high school you went to for a good education. If you wanted to be an artist, you went to The Music and Art High School next to CCNY.

So here was a public high school in a working class, immigrant neighborhood, during wartime, following the most traumatic economic period in US history, before fundraising auctions or walk-a-thons were a twinkle in any PTA member’s eye, providing art for its students without questioning art’s educational value or requiring significant data or RFQs in order to continue its funding, turning out some of the most creative American minds of the past century.

Yes, I am naive and no historian, and that was New York and this is Seattle, but still, the contrast is pretty awesome. What happened? Why don’t we value the arts in education anymore?

I think the answer may be that we don’t value education anymore. We value stuff. Lots of stuff. And Power.

And our culture no longer perceives knowledge as power. Instead, money and fame are what we respect most. If you asked the American people what they would rather have–a 55” Class Edge Lit Razor LED™ LCD HDTV with VIZIO Internet Apps® and unlimited cable access, a you-tube video of their overweight cat going viral resulting in an interview spot on the Ellen Degeneres Show, or a free, excellent, public education–what do you think the majority would answer?

What if that changed? What if education became the priority in our society across all learning areas? What if the entire population rose up to support schools, teachers, students, learning? What if knowledge was part of the American Dream?

If not, how many creative minds of this century will be left under-nourished?