Monday, October 29, 2012


Having just taught a class that focused on simple color theory with my young students, I started evaluating the color choices I have used in my own work, which prompted me to look more closely at the color palate some of my favorite illustrators have chosen for their work. Color can tell us a lot about the era, season, or mood of a story or poem, even before we begin to read the first word. 

 A wonderful example of deliberate color choice is the book Sharing the Seasons a Book of Poems, (Margaret K. McElderry Books /Simon and Schuster, 2010) selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by David Diaz. Warm, vibrant oranges, purples and greens illustrate the poems for autumn. Crisp whites and pale blues illustrate the winter poems, while deep blue-greens are used for summer. These seasonal color choices make sense and complement the text perfectly.

What about mood or emotion? A sad poem illustrated in bright neon hues would seem too stark a contrast. A poem about love illustrated in muted browns would not capture the right emotion.  The choice of color can also be very important to a story taking place in a different time, place or country.

To use these ideas in the classroom, first have a discussion about warm and cool colors and how certain colors are typically used to illustrate different seasons. Next, talk about which colors evoke certain emotions ex: (red for anger, yellow for happiness, grey for sadness or despair, etc.). Using the book mentioned above or another illustrated book of children’s poems, ask students to talk about the color choices the artist used and if they are (or are not) a good match for the poem. 

For a hands-on exercise, read several poems aloud to students and ask them to create an accompanying illustration using deliberate color choices.  Plain white paper, crayons or colored pencils would work well. Use as examples some seasonal poems, but also challenge students with poems that have an emotional content. Have students share drawings with the class and explain their color choices.  Older students can be given an assignment to write their own original poems to illustrate.

I’m anxious to try this with my students and find out what colors they will chose to color their words!

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