We've been lucky enough to have been gifted many children's books over the years; I'm talking multiple bookshelves worth. We're also fans of the library, so apart from the occasional bookfair flyer home from school pressure we rarely purchase new books. Maybe its because most of our books are hand-me-downs, but It never ceases to amaze me how poorly written many of the books out there are. I mean, some of them are downright horrible. I feel embarrassed for the author while I am reading them to my 2 year old. For example: Just this morning I read a story about 3 ice skating elephants. The first two (a male and female) skate fast and slow, but always together. They are apparently an item. The third comes along and catches the male elephant's eye. He becomes so dizzy with the thought of skating with the new elephant that he falls through the ice. His original girl comes and saves him, so now he only will skate with her. Anywhooo...
When I come across a great book that happens to also deal with design, I can't help but share it. Two such books written by Chris Van Dusen are the top of my list and are definitely worthy of purchasing new. If I built a House and If I Built a Car both involve a clever little boy who while bored with his average house/car invents a new design for each. The stories are both great examples of how the imagination can make life way more interesting. In IF I BUILT A Car, Jack designs a vehicle that embodies a typical childlike fantasy with its hide-a-way pool, conveyer belt snack bar, driving robot, and retractable wings. VanDusen touches upon designing for the 5 senses with ideas like an engine that converts gasoline fumes into a more pleasing smell (like blueberry muffins) and even considers passenger safety with a special polymer gel exterior that doesn't dent.
The humor, whimsy, and practical lessons of the design process make this probably the best book I have read to my kids so far and one perfect for the classroom. Plus, it rhymes, and I am pretty sure that all children's books should rhyme.
This book does NOT disappoint the older student. I have read it to my 8th graders as a fun break from designing their linear perspective interiors and every one of them sat quietly with wide eyes as I read. Even my 10th graders enjoyed flipping through and remarked on the design process that the book covered.
Special thanks to Aunt Vicki for gifting If I built a House!!
This week I was lucky to take a trip back to Providence. If you're ever feeling uninspired, just spend a few hours in this city. It is one of the most refreshingly interesting places I've spent time in. As an art teacher, the resources there are unbeatable. Every time I go, I make sure to stop at the RI Recycle for Education warehouse. This is a design instructor's dream. Barrels of raw materials waiting to be turned into a meaningful lesson.
This Fall I went to the Makers Fair in Queens with a group of coworkers to prepare for a Makerspace program being piloted in our elementary school. While the Maker movement is mainly a technological extension of the DIY moment, I was mostly inspired by the un-techy objects.
There were thousands of cool creations waiting to be turned into high school art and design lessons.
A challenge I keep coming back to in my design course is how to encourage creative solutions that the students actually get to create. Often times, the materials and facilities we offer can be limiting. I continue to work on molding the assignments to enable creative freedom along with the whole package of completing a design from concept to prototype. How do you work beyond the limitations of a school classroom to help the students "make" more?
My two sons are read to every night right before bed. We all snuggle together on the couch and we try to get through as many pages as we can before the avalanche of questions from the older one or the inevitable slithering off the couch in search for a snack from the younger one. I value this time, and not just because it means that the very special time of day when we have the house to ourselves (for an hour) is getting closer.
I recently picked up the book Journey, by Aaron Becker as a present for my soon-to-be two year old. Anyone who knows me well, understands that I can't hold on to a gift for long. I gave it to him early, and will most likely have to find something else to give him on the day he actually turns two. It was the perfect gift right before bed-time and a great addition to our collection of children's books.
I didn't actually read the description of the book before I purchased it. I saw the beautiful illustrations and was sold. When I opened it up to read to the boys I quickly realized that my participation in reading time was about to become more than I bargained for. Being a wordless book, I would have to provide the story and encourage my very tired son to read into the illustrations. I am not a very lazy person, but I like to be prepared with the amount of effort I have to put into something right upfront. Since there was no going back, we started the journey of Journey. I have to say, In my 4 years of being a parent, and after reading hundreds of stories, I have never witnessed two children so engaged with a story as they were with Journey. I also have never had as much fun "reading" a story. I highly recommend this book.
This experience brought me to a project my students are currently working on. We recieved a grant to create a children's book in collaboration with 4-5 year olds in our district. My 10th grade students went through weeks of planning and brainstorming to decide what makes for a great children's book and how to include really young children in the process of creating one. One of the things that came to the group early on was parental involvement. My students agreed that the tone of the reader's voice was equally as important as the words they were reading. I had a wonderful 5th grade Reading teacher who used her dramatic voices in each story she read. Mrs. Walker had a better Roald Dahl Matilda voice than Miss Mara Wilson, herself.
So, my class brainstormed ways to encourage parents to read to their children in voices. They thought about including a blurb on the inside cover letting parents know how important hearing the unique voices are to children, and providing backgrounds of the characters to help the parents come up with voice options. They considered voice notes on the sides of the pages to remind parents to insert their character voices. None of their ideas stuck in the final version of the book.
The class is well into the illustration process at this point. They chose not to include any reminders in writing and will rely on their pictures of the characters to draw the voices. Whether this is the best solution or not is irrelevant. I was grateful that they came up with the idea of parental involvement with voices on their own as a topic for brainstorming and discussion. To me, the more important thing was that they were including it in their design process and knew well enough to think about it to begin with.
Just as Journey relies on the nuances of the illustrations to carry the story and provide voices for its characters, the students creating their picture book rely on subtle skills to get their voices heard. It isn't always easy to articulate this subtlety, but when a great example comes along, it is refreshing.
Go out and get this book. You don't have to read it to children to fall in love with it. If you need an excuse, get it for the sole purpose of illustrating the skill of saying something with subtlety to your students. Let them know there are ways to have your voice heard loud and clear in very quiet ways.
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.