When I was in the fourth grade, my family moved to Mt. Lebanon, a small suburb of Pittsburgh, PA. I had a wonderful art teacher, Miss Yingling, who noticed my shyness, being the new kid, and who also noticed my passion to draw. At that time the Carnegie Museum of Art had a program where art teachers in the public schools could choose one or two students to attend an art class held in a huge auditorium on Saturday mornings. I remember taking the city bus downtown to the museum, then getting in line with what seemed like hundreds of other 4th - 6th grade students to be given a 11 X 14 masonite drawing board, a sheet of manilla paper, a box of crayons, and a pencil. We took our places in the auditorium and wrote our names, address, and phone number on the back side of the paper in the upper left-hand corner. We used the crayon box to outline a horizontal box and a vertical box for thumbnail sketches, then used the slim side of the crayon box to outline a narrow rectangle in which we used our pencil to shade from dark to light. A color wheel with complimentary colors and secondary colors was drawn-- all of this was accomplished while waiting for all of the students to be seated. Then the teacher, whose name I cannot remember, would use a microphone and an easel and teach us to draw. There was usually a theme and we would watch, then draw two ideas for a picture- one in the horizontal box and one in the vertical box. This was the first hour of the class. The second hour was spent drawing the full-size picture on the other side of the paper in color with crayons. When the hour was done, we waited in line to turn in our supplies and place our drawings on the pile with hopes that our drawing would be "chosen." To be "chosen" would mean receiving a phone call mid-week and asked to come to the stage the following week and reproduce your drawing really big at an easel in colored chalk while the teacher taught in front of the stage. Then at the end of the two hours you would get to go up and speak into the microphone to briefly speak about what inspired you, and receive a pin. All during my fourth grade year, I yearned to be asked up onto the stage. In the fall of my fifth grade my mom finally got the call. I had drawn a kid jumping in leaves paying special attention to hands and feet, as we had learned how to draw them the week before. I remember donning a white painter's smock. There were ten easels on stage as ten students were chosen each week. I remember the feel and smell of the large colored chalk in one hand and holding onto my drawing from the week before in my other hand, referring back and forth as I enlarged it in front of all the other students in the audience. I remember my voice cracking in a whisper and being asked to speak louder into the mike. And then the pin. A little round pin. I felt like a real artist. An official artist. Two more times I went to that stage to draw before my family moved again. And what do picture books have to do with this? It was picture books that taught me to understand and connect to the world around me. It was picture books that inspired me to draw-- I learned about shape and expression, movement and composition that was re-inforced by the lessons I learned at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I no longer have the drawings except in my memory, but I have the three pins-- those three official pins that told me I was "real".
Ten writers for children. All with something to say.
Picture Books and Me
Ever since the NY times posted that article about the "Picture Book is Dead", I have wanted to write about it on this blog. It was the picture book that assured me one-on-one time with my mom, sitting in her lap, listening to the rise and fall of her voice while I had the luxury of "reading" the pictures without interruptions from my siblings. I had favorite picture books; carrying them from room to room, waiting for my mom to be finished in the kitchen or return from dropping my older sister off at nursery school and put my younger brother down for his nap, so I could curl up with her in the rocking chair and rock back and forth with her reading aloud. I loved the pictures and was not in a hurry to read myself. Picture books meant "love" and if I learned to read chapter books on my own, then I was alone-- or at least that is what I felt until I got hooked on Nancy Drew in the second grade and I have been an avid reader ever since.