Snow. Snow. BOOK DEAL!! Snow.

Winter 2016 so far: a historic blizzard followed by lots of shoveling out cars (if you could even find yours) plus one day off school, no make that two, no three, no four, count em’ five! Then I got a book deal and now it’s snowing again, which is nice because it’s a federal holiday so we won’t have to make it up during June and…

Wait, did I just say book deal? Book deal?

Maybe my brain is still half-frozen, because I seem to being seeing a listing in Publisher’s Marketplace announcing that Jonathan Roth’s illustrated chapter book series, BEEP AND BOB’S HORRIBLE ADVENTURES IN SPACE, has been placed at Aladdin Books, in a four-book deal, by the awesome agent Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency.

In other words: time to run down the street yelling “WOO-HOO!” (Actually, the road is slushy and slick where they plowed, and more snow is falling, so maybe I’ll just emote out the front door, mindful of not startling neighbor Stu too much).

Still: WOO-HOO!!!

In Uri Shulevitz’s wonderful picture book Snow, a cold, gray city transforms into a bright, beautiful landscape of white. And it all starts with a single snowflake.

Writing is like snowing. First one word. Then a second. Then a third. Then they melt. But then the words start snowing again, and after years of piling and drifting and shoveling them aside, a few look like they’re finally going to stick, little black letters on a beautiful landscape of white called a book.

To be continued…!

Best. Teacher. Ever! (almost)

As a 2nd grade class was ending earlier, I noticed a kid sheepishly holding a ‘BEST TEACHER EVER’ drawing that she’d made. As I was preparing to humble myself, her classroom teacher came to pick them up, and the girl bounded over and presented her with the award.

Okay, so I’m not the Best Teacher Ever. On the other hand, I do have a drawer full of awards that, in no uncertain terms, name me as the BEST ART TEACHER EVER. Yes, that narrows it, but still. To think that of all the instructors that have ever taught drawing, painting, collage, weaving, architecture, photography, cartooning and so on, I’m the best; well, that kind of makes me blush.

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(wait: does this say ‘BEAST’?)

Truthfully, these little notes and drawings are the best gifts a teacher could receive (though, to all parents, Starbucks cards are still good, too). A couple came to my desk recently that, for some reason I can’t fathom, both depict horses. One is from a current student, and one is from a student who came back from high school just to deliver it (tear). Bonus points for the fact that it looks just like the ambitious and never-realized-in-his-time sculpture of the horse by Leonardo da Vinci (my main man).

Whoa!

At the start of almost every art class (pre-K through 2nd grade) I read a picture book related to the lesson. There’s a magical quality in the air when kids raise their eyes in wonder and let themselves be drawn into something that isn’t even on a screen.

A telling moment for me is when kids go “Whoa!”

In Ian Falconer’s Olivia, this happens without fail when she learns how to make sand castles, and gets “pretty good” by crafting the Empire State Building.

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“Whoa!”

They also always say “Whoa!” in Janell Cannon’s Verdi when the young python shoots himself off a branch into the air:

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They’re genuinely impressed by these actions. “But wait a sec,” I want to say. “You’re saying ‘whoa’ like you actually believe Olivia built that, and Verdi can fly. You do see they’re just drawings, right? Not even digital of 3-D or that realistic or anything! Please tell me you’re just playing along, or mouthing this ironically. Because if you can somehow be that invested in a simple picture, it either means you have some sort of psychological disconnect with reality, or that these books have some kind of magical spell. But how can a few floppy, stapled, reproduced pages invoke magic? If books can make you believe in the impossible with just a few simple words and lines, then think of the power they have? I mean, the genuine, mind-altering and world-shaping power!”

Whoa.

Name that Kid

I’m sometimes asked, with more than 900 students in our school, how do I remember all the names? Out of context, like at the mall, it’s not always easy (no comment on whether it’s easier or not to remember the kids whose names you have to say the most: “Bob, this is not a splatter paint lesson!” “Bob, hands are for helping!” “Bob, stop eating the clay!”)

With kids representing more than 40 nationalities, there are many unique and uncommon names in our school. Happily, I’ve never once seen a kid teased for what they’re called. A few in particular give me a kick: I’m proud to say that Raphael, Leonardo, Rodin and Monet are all dedicated art students of mine (not to mention a girl who goes by Squid). But going over the class lists, I have to say the three new incoming students whose official names I like best are:  Sky, Poet, and – my new personal favorite – Spock.

Live long and do your homework, kids!

Happy New Year!

As a teacher, I’ve never understood why the New Year begins in the middle of winter. September is the true start of the year. At least it should be. The air is crisp, the kids are fresh, and all the markers have the correct caps on them (this last item is particularly important!)

In my ten years at my current school, not much has changed (except the principal, my art room, and the entire student body). Over the centuries, however, the school has gone through a few looks. For last year’s yearbook cover I showed Ashburton Elementary through the ages: