Authors! Authors!

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun First-graders show their parents that something fishy is going as they sit with a school of giant eels they helped create for an open house showcasing what they learned during their month-long author study of Leo Lionni. A giant eel is a character in Lionni’s Caldecott award-winning children’s book, “Swimmy.”

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun
First-graders show their parents that something fishy is going as they sit with a school of giant eels they helped create for an open house showcasing what they learned during their month-long author study of Leo Lionni. A giant eel is a character in Lionni’s Caldecott award-winning children’s book, “Swimmy.”

There were snakes dangling from basketball hoops, eels as long as cars slithering onstage and basketball-size eggs hatching who-knows-what oviparous creatures on the cafeteria tables. And it was all in the name of literature.

The 10 first-grade classes at Sharon School held an open house May 30 to showcase what they’d learned during their month-long author study of the stories and illustrations of Leo Lionni. The animals were made from old neckties, felt and papier-mache, but the hardcover books the children wrote and illustrated themselves in the distinctive Lionni style were the real deal.

“Every class wrote their own fiction story using Lionni as a mentor text,” explained first-grade teacher Kim Raymond. “So we used a lot of the tools that Lionni used to illustrate his books, and we also looked at the story elements and the story features to include that into the fiction writing as well.”

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun Michelle Main, 7, and her 4-year-old brother, Mitchell, take a look at the “Extraordinary Eggs” inspired by the Leo Lionni story of the same name.

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun
Michelle Main, 7, and her 4-year-old brother, Mitchell, take a look at the “Extraordinary Eggs” inspired by the Leo Lionni story of the same name.

Children used potato stamps to create illustrations, just as Lionni did in his 1963 book, “Swimmy,” a Caldecott Honor book that is one of more than 40 books Lionni wrote and illustrated in his lifetime. “Swimmy” was also the inspiration for the 15-foot papier-mache eels on the stage. The dangling necktie snakes on the basketball hoops were decorated with googly eyes and construction paper forked tongues to create the serpent from “In the Rabbitgarden.”

Lionni was the first children’s book illustrator to use collage as an artistic medium, creating characters with patches of color much like the way Eric Carle later did with tissue paper in the children’s classic, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” The Sharon School students imitated this collage style to illustrate their own miniature hardcover books that were on display in the school’s multipurpose room.

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun Maisie Thompson, 7, and her brother Joseph, 4, at the necktie snake rack inspired by the Leo Lionni book “In the Rabbitgarden.”

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun
Maisie Thompson, 7, and her brother Joseph, 4, at the necktie snake rack inspired by the Leo Lionni book “In the Rabbitgarden.”

“Our fiction stories used his way of using paper, tearing paper, cutting out paper and shapes,” Raymond said. “We used all kinds of different mediums that they’re really not used to working with so that it looked like it could be one of Lionni’s books.”

Deb Dauer and Sharon Martin were the first-grade teachers who obtained the  $1,000 grant from the nonprofit Robbinsville Education Foundation to pay for the books and art supplies the children needed to complete the author study.

The project went beyond art and literacy to also include social studies, science and math curriculums. The concepts of time and measurement were taught in conjunction with Lionni’s book “Inch by Inch,” and “The Extraordinary Egg” became part of science lessons as students learned about the different animals that hatch from eggs. Then they created papier-mache eggs with animal cutouts inside.

“We really stretched Leo across all the subjects,” teacher Jessica Migliaccio said.

The No. 1 goal, however, was helping first-graders develop their own “voice” as writers. Dauer said the opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the study of one author enabled the kids to become better writers themselves.

“It really makes a difference in how they perceive their own writing when they know that they can be an expert on another author’s writing,” Dauer said.

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun First-grader Sydney Mercer shows her parents, Tania and Chris, and 3-year-old brother, Shane, the giant egg and storybook she created as part of the Leo Lionni author study project at Sharon School.

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun
First-grader Sydney Mercer shows her parents, Tania and Chris, and 3-year-old brother, Shane, the giant egg and storybook she created as part of the Leo Lionni author study project at Sharon School.

As more guests arrived, the multipurpose room where all the arts and crafts and homemade books were on display began to take on the air of a celebrity book-signing event. Parents and grandparents lined up around the tables and snapped photographs of the budding young authors reading their books.

For the teachers watching it all, there could be no doubt the project was a success.

“They loved it because it was something different than they’re used to doing,” Raymond said. “We did a lot of things that stretched their creativity and I think we saw a lot of stuff that we didn’t even know they were capable of doing.”

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun Sydney Regen, 6, reads her mom, Charlotte, “Fish Wants to See the House,” a book she wrote and illustrated in the style of children’s author Leo Lionni.

JOANNE DEGNAN/The Robbinsville Sun
Sydney Regen, 6, reads her mom, Charlotte, “Fish Wants to See the House,” a book she wrote and illustrated in the style of children’s author Leo Lionni.

 

 

 

 


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