Transitions: A Collection of Children's Books
I teach a class called Lights, Camera, Media Literacy! that has a great children's book project in the curriculum. The students create children's books in order to learn about the basic elements of plot. I thought it would be fun to take this project to another level by bringing in a local artist to work with the students on their illustrations and to self-publish all the stories as a book in full color. I also wanted to use the project as a way to teach the concept of theme. I asked the students to come up with stories inspired by past transitional experiences in their lives. They had to think of times where they faced difficult challenges, or new obstacles they had to overcome. I wanted the theme of transitions to run through all the stories.
First, I asked students to do a few freewrites thinking back about transitional periods, or difficult challenges they've experienced. After a few of these freewriting activities, we started sharing some of the writing. We quickly realized that many of the students had similar transitional experiences in common such as experiencing their parents getting a divorce or immigrating to the US as a young child. Other groups talked about the death of a loved one, making new friends and starting therapy for emotional issues. The students ended up forming groups based on their shared experiences.
Then, the groups brainstormed possible story ideas. Even though the stories were all inspired by true life experiences, the eventual stories would be metaphorical. So each group created a metaphorical story inspired by their shared experiences. Students used large pieces of bulletin board paper to brainstorm the possible main events in their stories. I had them map out these events following the basic plot diagram as shown here:
Groups then used a shared Google Doc to collaborate on their rough drafts. Once we had decent rough drafts of each story, we turned our attention to the illustrations. For this phase of the project, we were fortunate to be able to bring in a local community artist, Arturo Ho, to help guide the students through the art process. The groups printed out their rough drafts and started working on what we called the master storyboards. They divided their stories into pages, laid out the text, and started the rough sketches of their illustrations. Here is a short video of students working on their master storyboards:
Many of the students doubted their artistic abilities at the start of the project. Some students said outright that they were terrible artists. However, these same students soon realized they were wrong, and that they did have artistic abilities. One thing I discovered during this project is the art process is very similar to the writing process. Arturo Ho, the professional artist who worked with us, carefully guided students through the different stages of the art process. The students first had to create their rough sketches, just like writers must first create their rough drafts. The students slowly developed more refined illustrations based on their rough sketches. By the time the master storyboards were done, each group had a clear sense of what they wanted their illustrations to look like. They also had the confidence they needed to complete the project.
Before starting our final illustrations, we invited a class of third graders over from a nearby elementary school to read our stories and give us some honest feedback.
The students used the feedback to continue to edit and revise both their stories and their illustrations. At this point, the artists were ready to start their final illustrations. They used tracing tables to trace the rough sketches from their master storyboards onto pre-cut pieces of thick art paper. Once they had the basic outline complete for each illustration, they used a variety of materials to carefully color them in. One challenge was making the characters look the same from page to page. Arturo helped the students by showing them different artistic techniques to polish off their work. Many groups also used water colors to add another layer of color to their drawings. The students were surprised at the quality of their final illustrations.
Zoe, one of my 8th grade students, summed up the project nicely in a recent guest blog post for The Nerdy Book Club:
Life isn’t always what you want it to be. Sometimes, your parents get divorced. Sometimes, you have to start over in a new city, state, or even country. Sometimes, you have to seek professional help for emotional issues. But if you’re able to appreciate the difficult parts of life, you will grow to be a better person. We wrote these books for children. We want them to not only enjoy them, but to learn from them. We want them to understand the bad parts of life when they are young, so they can cope with it better when they are older. If these lessons are taught at a young age, they will be better adults. But how do you teach these lessons? You have to speak their language. That’s what we have done here.
You can purchase Transitions on amazon.com for $15.00. You can also download the free PDF version of the book below. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks!