Ezra Jack Keats, now there's an author illustrator whose body of work seems to exist just to provide me with endless amazing springboards from literature to art. Seriously. That man could write a wonderful kids book. And make it seem effortless. If you've ever attempted to write a children's book...you'll know it's hella harder than it looks!
His story-telling seems to float off the page and his illustrations...well... I'd say they were hip and vibrant and mesmerizing. I'm no fool...I see how my kids eyes are glued to the page when I am reading one of his books. So many of his stories - even 40 years later - speak so clearly to my small urban students, in words and pictures together.
I am a sucker for collage and I adore the way he uses it. The colors, textured and patterns, they are all so relevant to his stories and the environment his characters live in, like Peter and Archie and Willie the dog (who I am particularly partial to!). Nothing cutesy or patronizing in the way Keats portrays his characters. Keats' kids inhabit places in childhood like quiet wonder, resourcefulness and creativity, being an older sibling, playing with friends and meeting new ones, and sometimes having some serious chutzpah, like in the following book...
One of my favorite books is Goggles. I like to introduce the book to my kids by telling them that it is a suspenseful story! Then they all want to know - what's suspenseful mean? So I tell them...it means, you just don't know what's going to happen until the end! And you really don't. Until as Archie says at the end of the story.."things look real fine now!"
Take a look at a photo journey of my 1st graders: "Portrait of a Friend in Goggles":
|Firstly, we need to make an oval for our friend's head. So we trace it!|
|Then of course we cut it out. In this lesson, the sequence of events is important.|
|Glue, glue glue. They use cups of Elmers with a swab and make "dots" of glue all around the thing they are gluing. I ran out of glue sticks a week ago! I tell the kids to save the scraps after they cut out the head to make the neck!|
|Now comes the suspenseful part: Can 1st graders trace and cut-out a rather complicated template?|
|Well, yes they can! Some of them need me to help them make the "snip" cut in the center of the goggles to cut out the eye part...but most can do this with no help at all!|
|Now there's a method to my madness: You have to glue down the goggles first--so then you know where to put the eyes, nose and mouth!|
|Cut up some wallpaper or other colorfully patterned paper for the shirt and also a little matching frame on top!|
|After coloring in the eyes and lips with pastels...the piece de resistance...yarn hair!|
|The Boy With the Blue Goggles. Sure beats The Girl With the Pearl Earring.|