The Rosendale School 3rd Grade Residency
Last month I had the great privilege of teaching a six-week residency in Kyra Sahasrabudhe’s third grade class at Rosendale Elementary School. Using my book WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING: A Lift-the-Flap Book of Time Around the World as a model, we created a class mural titled “We’re All the Same . . . In All Different Ways”. The children researched and illustrated “windows” into other cultures and time zones which we mounted as flaps on a large cut-out mural of a world map. When you lift the flap, you get a peek into someone else’s life!
We began by looking at the globe. While we are sleeping in New York at 4am, what time is it in Brazil? Ethiopia? Australia? What might children be doing in those places? Students were paired into teams and chose an activity for their assigned culture. In Brazil at 5am, children could be feeding chickens. In Israel at 11am, families could be shopping in an outdoor market. In China at 5pm, someone could be cooking dinner. Students eagerly began researching their subjects. They made lists of what images they would need for visual reference. What does a chicken coop look like in Brazil? What does a street look like in Germany? What fruits and vegetables are sold in Israel? We hunted for pictures online, in magazines, and in library books. I also supplied several photo collages that I created for my own research – including some used for WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING. Many kids said this “image-hunting” was their favorite part of the project.
With photos laid out on their desks, the children began drawing rough sketches. Each team drew one image of “sleeping at 4am”, and one daytime activity in their assigned culture. I let them in on my secret tool as an illustrator: tracing paper. Tracing paper is an illustrator’s best friend. Its transparency allows for easy overlapping and moving of images.
Want two people in a drawing to trade places? Just cut between them and change them around. Want them to face the other way? Flip them over! Tracing paper also allows for easy erasing and lots of trial and error. Drawing a bicycle might take some practice, but with tracing paper you get as many chances as you need. Children were encouraged to use plenty of tracing paper to practice drawing architecture, trees, and clothing that were not familiar to them. These are the visual elements that give a place its special look.
Some children asked if it was okay to trace things directly from a photograph. I said that if the object was the right size, yes, because we are practicing and learning when we are sketching. Surprisingly, some kids discovered they did not like tracing from photos. The images in the photos were hard to “read” when they were changed into pencil lines.
Following the design of WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING, we composed our illustrations into circles. We cut and moved pieces of tracing paper until everything fit nicely, then traced the new arrangement to make a clean sketch. We used the classroom windows as a lightbox, and discovered that with each tracing, it got easier to draw something difficult – but sometimes tiring on young arms to draw on a vertical surface.
Next we convened as a group and took turns playing editor. Each sketch was discussed and revisions were suggested. A rough sketch is like a map of what an illustration will look like. It only needs to show size, shape, and placement of the main elements in the picture. This was a good time to decide how large or small, near or far objects should be so that they are visually “readable”. We talked about communicating with pictures, and the golden rule of illustration: Never confuse the viewer. What do we want our viewer to see about this unique place on earth? What have we learned about this place that we’d like to share?
Revising our sketches was the next step, and then transferring them to white paper. As always, we could have used much more time to color, but the students worked so energetically, they got the job done. This is when a class is most quiet in my residencies. The research is done, and the children can relax their thinking brains. Coloring is the most physical part of the process, and the kids are active and engaged. It was a warm spring day; the windows were open, the lights were switched off, and the sound of birds outside could be heard now and then along with the scribbling of busy pencils.
We talked about how to blend different skin colors out of the colored pencils we had on hand – some children later said this was the hardest part – and how to vary pressure with colored pencils to get different effects. Then we all got together as editors again to see what we did. Great and diligent coloring jobs! I was impressed.
And we all noticed how children in other cultures are the same as us in many ways . . . and how they are different.
Now came the best part: assembling our mural. A patchwork of construction paper was taped together and cut into continents, then glued on our oval globe of solid blue. Headlines and labels were added and flaps moved here and there. Dots and pointers were placed linking our round window flaps with locations on the map. Finally, clocks were placed under each flap, showing the time in that place.
Then we stepped back. Our mural was done!
Special thanks to Dutchess County Arts Council for making this residency possible; and to the assistants and aids, librarians and staff who were part of it. Most of all, to Ms. Sahasrabudhe and her wonderful class, thank you! I hope you enjoyed the project as much as I did. You should be proud of your work. I will miss seeing you on Wednesday mornings.