Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Gardens

“Nestled in the branches of a tree,
Arlo opened his book and breathed in.

“Beginnings were always the best part.
They smelled as if anything were possible.”

I illustrated The Book Tree, written by Paul Czajak – a wonderful story about a boy who sits on the branches of a tree to read. When one of his books falls on the Mayor’s head, the Mayor decides to tear up every book in town – with disastrous consequences for teachers and their students, chefs and their restaurants, actors and their theatres and of course, libraries.

But then there was a miracle: “a sprout springing from where the page had been buried. It began to open its leaves. It reached for Arlo’s words, begging for more.” Pretty soon, Arlo was imagining and writing stories about giants and swans and fire-breathing beasts.

“People grew hungry for reading again. Some wrote their own stories and became book gardeners themselves.”

Even the Mayor finally shared the wonder of books.

My illustrations feature oil paint, ink and collages. I used natural materials to bring  depth and contrast to my drawings, like using real feathers, pieces of wood, fabrics and metals to make the collages more tangible.

People of the town have different skin tones with blue hair or mustaches. They look funny and whimsical.  The book tree itself is been printed with golden ink to give it a magical shine. The books that actually grow on the tree branches are in different languages.

The Book Tree can inspire student writing and even turn a whole school into book gardeners – limited only by your imagination.

Here are a few ideas to get started:
1 –  Have students draw a book tree full of their favorite books.
2 –  The teacher can draw a tree and each student draw or attach his/her favorite book to it.
3 – Draw the Mayor and Arlo as friends, reading a book together – or have students write a paragraph about what books the Mayor and Arlo enjoyed reading together. Perhaps they could even write a story together.
4 – Look at the illustrations in the book and find places where materials other than paint and paper have been used.  Make your own collage with lots of different materials.

The motto of publisher Barefoot Books is to “step inside a story.”  What stories would your students like to step inside?  The Book Tree celebrates the themes Barefoot Books seeks to highlight: “encourage independence of spirit, enthusiasm for learning and respect for the world’s diversity.”

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