Tips for Teachers is a monthly column in which experienced teacher and children’s librarian Emmie Stuart shares book recommendations and a corresponding teaching guide for fellow elementary school teachers.
Charlotte Mason, an English teacher living at the turn of the century, is one of my heroines. She once wrote, “We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.” Her writings have significantly influenced my views on childhood, teaching and the purpose of education. One of her strongly held beliefs was that children should be served “a delectable feast” of literature, music and art. Well-illustrated picture books are all miniature works of art, influencing a “child’s sense of beauty.”
The following books introduce children to three significant illustrators and their art, but they also go beyond just that. They, too, are works of art in their own right that offer children delectable feasts of illustration, information and inspiration.
It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Growing up in a Japanese American family, Gyo Fujikawa knew from an early age that she wanted to be an artist. “She loved the feeling of a pencil in her hand.” Though she often felt invisible to her white classmates, her drawings caught the eye of two of her high school teachers. Their encouragement and monetary assistance opened the door for Fujikawa to attend art school and then to travel to Japan for further study.
Upon her return to the United States, she began working as an animator on the East Coast. When her family was sent to an internment camp, however, she struggled to continue drawing. Inspiration returned when she realized that her drawings could help fight the racial prejudice that pervaded the country. Her groundbreaking book, Babies, published in 1963, showed babies of all races playing together, and the book was a great success. Full of action and determination, the story of Fujikawa’s life shows children their natural talents can go far to fight injustice.
- Comfort and Creativity
In school, Fujikawa often felt invisible; when her family was sent to an internment camp, her heart was broken. At first, she was so sad that she could not draw, but eventually she began to take comfort in color. Color lifted her spirit, and she wondered, “Could art comfort and lift others too?” Allow time for students to think and journal about a time when they felt invisible, worried, anxious or sad. Come back together and discuss strategies for working through these hard feelings. Ask another question: “What comforts and lifts you when the world feels gray?” For many children (and adults), expressing feelings through a creative project can be a comforting and healthy way of processing emotions. Provide art supplies and let students get lost in a creative project.
- Women at Disney
The book’s excellent back matter has a timeline of significant events of Fujikawa’s life. One of the events mentions a Glamour magazine article spotlighting “Girls at Work for Disney.” Show the article to students and ask them what they notice about the caption under Fujikawa name. It reads, “Gyo, a Japanese artist.” What is wrong about this caption? Show students the article and then research some of the other women who worked at Walt Disney. Read aloud Amy Guglielmo’s Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire and parts of Mindy Johnson’s Pencils, Pens & Brushes: A Great Girls’ Guide to Disney Animation.
- Sketching a la Gyo
Set up a Gyo table. Provide copies of her books, white paper, black ink pens and colored pencils. Throughout the week, let students read her books, study her illustrations and create their own Gyo-inspired artwork.
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist written by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki
Tyrus Wong emigrated from China to the United States when he was only 9 years old. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, he was forced to become a “paper son,” to take on a false identity in order to pass through the rigorous strictures of the immigration process. After being detained at Angel Island for weeks, he finally passed the intense interview with immigration authorities and was reunited with his father. He worked hard to graduate from high school and art school.
Landing a job as an “in-betweener” at Walt Disney studios, Wong was excited when production plans were announced for an upcoming film, Bambi. His combination of Western and Eastern artistic styles heavily influenced the film, but he was only credited as a “background artist.” Shedding a light on the difficulties of immigration and showing the practical implications of racism, Wong’s story is sure to spark classroom discussion.
- Immigration Stories
Wong was detained for weeks at Angel Island. Read other stories about children who emigrated from China to the United States and compare them to Wong’s experience. My 4th grade students and I read Helen Foster James’ Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America, parts of Russell Freedman’s Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain and Bette Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, which is one of my very favorite novels.
- Song Dynasty Art Study
Tyrus attended art school in Los Angeles and studied artwork from China’s Song dynasty. Combining Western and Eastern styles and influences in his painting allowed him to offer a unique artistic perspective to Bambi. Enlarge a few landscape paintings from the Song Dynasty. Give students time to study them and write down or orally share their observations. Then compare the paintings with stills from Walt Disney’s Bambi. Invite students to share how they think the Song Dynasty paintings influenced Wong’s work in Bambi.
- History of Animation
Wong was featured on an episode of the PBS series “American Masters.” Show students the portion of the episode (which starts at the 31:00 minute mark) that discusses Wsong’s work with Walt Disney studios and specifically his work on Bambi, the film that Walt Disney considered to be “the best picture I have ever made, and the best ever to come out of Hollywood,” as he told TIME magazine at the time.
Hi, I’m Norman: The Story of American Illustrator Norman Rockwell written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
Grabbing readers’ attention with engaging first-person narration (“Hi, I’m Norman. Norman Rockwell. Come on in.”), Robert Burleigh’s account of Rockwell’s life and work is a solid introduction to one of America’s most recognized and beloved illustrators.
Starting with his childhood love for “telling stories with pictures,” Rockwell explains how he worked his way through art school and, in an attempt to outrun the fear that he “wasn’t good enough,” accepted menial jobs until five of his illustrations were accepted by the Saturday Evening Post. He recounts how he got his ideas, shares stories about his use of various types of model and informs readers about how major American events, including World War II and racial segregation, influenced his artwork. Inviting and informative, the stories behind the illustrations had my students eagerly begging for me to show them Rockwell’s “real” artwork.
- The Four Freedoms
When America entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rockwell was too old to enlist. He decided that he would fight “with the one weapon I had—my art.” Watch a small portion of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. As a class, discuss the four freedoms. Give older children time to copy down the four freedoms; give younger students an index card with the four freedoms listed. Print out oversize copies of each of the paintings in Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series and hang them around the classroom. Label them numerically, one through four, and let students participate in a silent gallery walk. Can they match each of the four freedoms with its respective painting? Emphasize the power of observation and unhurried art study. After students have spent time studying the art (perhaps the next day), gather back together. Going one painting at a time, let students share their observations and explain which freedom the painting represents. Invite children to discuss, “Do we still have these freedoms today?” and “Do you think everyone in the United States or the world shares these freedoms?”
- The Problem We All Live With
Give students two minutes to take a visual inventory of Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With” and then let them share what they notice. Ask them if it reminds them of anything or anyone they have encountered in previous learning. Read Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges. Allow time for students to reflect on Bridges’ story. Invite them to consider ideas such as, “Do things like this still happen in our neighborhood, city or world today? Where and how?” Write down their responses on the board or piece of chart paper. Show students the video of Ruby Bridges looking at “The Problem We All Live With” alongside President Obama.
- Cover Stories
In the book, Rockwell explains, “Doing covers is doubly hard because a cover has to tell the whole story in just one picture.” Give students time to share or journal about a humorous or meaningful small moment from their life. Can they tell this story through a single illustration? After students have had time to experiment, brainstorm and doodle, provide blank white paper or a Saturday Evening Post template and let them illustrate their story.