Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Exploring Art in Children's Books with Henry the Explorer

As a follow-up to my post Why Our Kids Need Art (and Picture Books), I thought I would give you a real-life peek into what it's like to use picture books to talk about art with kids.

This week we read Henry the Castaway by Mark Taylor with illustrations by Graham Booth as part of our Five in a Row curriculum. I have learned so much about talking about art in picture books through the Five in a Row curriculum. Jane Claire Lambert, the author, has multiple suggestions for art topics for each book and really guides you in questions to ask and activities to do. However, this particular week, I decided to do my own art exploration and talk about color palette.

Henry the Castaway tells the story of Henry and his dog Laird Angus McAngus and their adventures exploring during a Spring thunderstorm. The books were originally published in the 1970s and the illustrations are full of vivid color and life. When I found out that this charming book was part of a series, I requested the other books from the library. Each book has a similar plot structure, but is set in a different season: Henry Explores the Jungle is in summer, Henry Explores the Mountains is in Fall, and Henry the Explorer is in Winter. The illustrator, Graham Booth, gave each book a very distinct color palette to reflect the different seasons.So it seemed like a perfect opportunity to talk about color choices.

Whenever we read a new book, we always read it at least once to just enjoy the story. Then when we read it the next day, I suggest that today we are going to read the book and take some extra time to look at the art. As we looked at the pictures more closely, I asked the kids questions like these:

What medium do you think the author used: watercolor, pencil, pen, marker, pastel?
What colors did the illustrator use? Why do you think he/she chose those colors?
Do the colors feel warm or cool? Do they make you feel happy or sad?
How would the book look different if the illustrator had decided to only use one color?

The kids noticed that the books are all set in different seasons and also remembered that one scene appears in all four books: when Henry sets out on his journey and comes to the end of his driveway and meets the mailman. This is a great chance to look at this scene in each book and notice the different colors Booth chose to use. Some are expected like vivid green for summer, but others are surprises like the dark purple he uses throughout the book. The kids also notice that he only used a limited number of colors throughout each book, what we call a color palette.

It's also fun to find two pages in the story that contrast: day/ night, happy/ sad, active/ peaceful and notice the color choices.

On this day, we were really focused on colors, but another day we might be looking for the expressions on a character's face, or patterns in people's clothing, or the way the art moves across the page.

Once we had looked at the pages to our heart's content, I asked each child to pick a favorite book in the series and paint a picture in that color palette. We used a mix of watercolors and washable markers for this.  Here is what the kids came up with: 
Winter scene: E, age 7
Henry Explores the Jungle:M, age 5
Paper Dolls: T, age 3

Paint dabbing: G, age 2
Many times our painting time becomes more about exploring paint than making actual pictures, but this time, they did pretty well. The three-year-old did try at first, but then got distracted by drawing a person and the person needing clothes. "She has two belly-buttons, Mom!" They were so cute, I had to share.

I discovered a secret to painting with toddlers last year, which I will share with you: Crafty Dab Kids Paints. They are washable paint in bingo dabber bottles. I got mine at Michael's with a 40% off coupon. My two-year-old loves these because they are a mixture between painting and pounding on the table. You can stamp on the paper or draw with them, and they seem to be pretty much indestructible. Now, I get out washable watercolors for the older kids and the paint dabbers for him and he can paint by himself without knocking over the water ten times. Also, make sure you use heavier paper like watercolor paper with younger kids so the pages don't get soaked and ripped. We also have a vinyl tablecloth we use to protect the table and old t-shirts we use as paint shirts.