Ten Authors and Artists Share Their Inspiration

There I was, listening to the best children’s book authors and illustrators at the Eric Carle Museum of picture Book Art, talking about what inspired them.  I couldn’t write fast enough (yes, I took a flurry of notes) or listen hard enough.  I strained my ears so I wouldn’t miss a word.  And, there were so many words and ideas spoken.  I wonder if the artists realize that while they shared their stories of inspiration, they were also inspiring their audience.  Me!

When I read a book aloud, I tell children in my class, “The words go into your ears, then into your brain and straight to your heart.”  Now, the tables were turned; I was the listener and that’s exactly what happened to me.  Here are some of those words:

Mo Willems:
“When I was a Cub Scout, the King Tut exhibit was at a museum in New Orleans.  The lines were two hours long to get in, and people were rushed to see the art.  As a Cub Scout, I volunteered to pick up trash around the museum in exchange for skipping to the front of the line.  When I entered the museum, I took a wrong turn and found myself in a room of Flemish artists.  I was alone.  I could spend all the time in the world looking at the paintings.  Being in that room inspired me.” – I know just how you felt, Mo.  You have to really look at art in order to see.

“My book is a dead book until you make it come alive.  YOU make my books come alive.” – Yes, Mo.  I will read your books with the passion you put into the words and illustrations.  I promise I will make your books come alive.

Sandra Boynton:
“As a child I always liked coloring books.  I loved the lines.  I had my pack of Crayola crayons and wondered- why isn’t there a black crayon in the box?” – Yes, Sandra, why wasn’t there a black one?  Your illustrations are lines.

 “My father was a teacher at a Quaker school in Philadelphia.  There was always student’s art hanging on the walls.  I remember that.  It made me feel good.” – I’ll always have children’s art hanging in the hallway, displayed like masterpieces, Sandra. 

Jerry Pinkney:
“As a child I remember my father’s workshop.  I was fascinated watching him work and create.  When I was eighteen, I won a scholarship to study at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  I had never been in a museum before.  Never.  And now, they have purchased one of my paintings.  Imagine that.” – What a story, Jerry.  Your picture books keep fairy tales alive for children.  

Loren Long:
“My inspiration was painters of the American Scene in the 20’s and 30’s, particularly Thomas Hart Benton.  He drew with a homegrown drawing style.  To me, his work had soul.” – And your work is much like his, Loren.

“I was born and raised in Kentucky.  There were educators along the way I remember.  One was Mr. Pennington.  He was the football coach and looked just like Mean Joe Green with a big afro.  I couldn’t make the football team.  One day I was sitting in his class and I heard him say my name.  I slouched down in my chair, and I heard him say my name again.  When I looked up he was showing my art and talking about me.  He was the art teacher.” – I will forever hold children’s art in high esteem, and displayed for the all the world to see, Loren.

“I remember the time I went to a nursing home to give a presentation.  I asked the residents to close their eyes. ‘Do you remember a book that was read to you as a child?’  Everyone raised their hand.  Keeping their eyes closed I asked, ‘Now, do you remember who read it to you?’  Again, all hands went up.  And finally I asked, ‘Do you remember how it made you feel?’  Every hand went up.  Everyone smiled.  Ninety years later, people still remember that feeling.” – Thank you, Loren.  What an empowering story.  I know children in my class remember the stories I read.  More importantly, they remember feeling good and often return to visit.

Tony DiTerlizzi:
“I liked to draw Dinosaurs when I was a child.  I was obsessed with them.” – Thank you, Tony, for being the perfect moderator and host.  I was delighted to show you Isabelle’s writing from first grade, “I want to be a cat and flâneur all around.”  She remembered that word from Diva and Flea, nine months after I read her the book.

Sophie Blackall:
“I was lucky to visit Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam.  She had posted pictures on her bedroom wall.  There were movie stars, and there were also pictures of chimpanzees having a tea party.  Imagine that!  I found those pictures fascinating.  I remember a green umbrella as a child.  Memories are so important to imagination.  And when I painted an umbrella for a book, of course it was green.” – Thank you for asking me the first book I remembered as a child.  It was “The Five Chinese Brothers”, with the sideways page of the brother who could stretch his legs.  I loved that book.  Your simple question brought me a flood of memories.  I will always ask children questions when I read books, like Finding Winnie (one of the best).  Thank you, Sophie.

Robin Preiss Glasser:
“I draw women from within, the way they feel, not just how they look.  I had a Troll Doll as a child and dressed it up with fancy clothes.  (Robin brought along her childhood Troll Doll with bright pink hair.)  I think that inspired my imagination and my Fancy Nancy books.” – Yes, Robin!  Drawing what you see on the inside, feelings and attitude and emotion, make an enormous difference in art, particularly for children.

Bryan Collier:
“When I get the text of the book, I respond to the inspiration of the words in the text.  I listen for the musicality of the text.” – Words are music, they speak to the heart and soul.  They inspire us.  When I read aloud, I will read those words in the way the writer intended; with abandon, or reverence, or silliness… I will give the words music.

LeUyen Pham:
“I loved drawing Star Wars characters when I was a child.  I had a pen I loved to draw with.  I’m a line painter, not a form painter, and this pen really worked for me.  When I met David Small, I was spellbound.  I gave him my pen.  Later, I learned that he told others about that pen, the best ever.  Wow!  Children tell me, ‘I know you drew me!’  I don’t see the color of children when I paint.  I see the child.” –Your vision of children in this world is beautiful.  Thank you for reflecting that young children are not encumbered with the world’s problems, and are eager picture book readers.

Laurie Keller:
“I loved ballet as a child.  I was inspired by dance.” – Your enthusiasm gives teachers and readers aloud the inspiration to make a difference.  Really.  Thank you, Laurie.  

This is but a sampling of the panel discussion.  Thank you to all for your inspiration!  And, thank you to the Eric Carle Museum for having this event.


Posted in art, Author interview, books, Early Education, Eric Carle, Imagination, Inspiration, museums, picture books, reading aloud, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Posts from Your Archives – Lunchtime conversations in the Classroom: It’s Important by Jennie Fitzkee

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

I recently invited you to share some of your posts from your archives. It is a way of giving your earlier or favourite posts a chance to be read by a different audience. Mine.  Details of how you can participate is at the end of the post.

Jennie Fitzkee has been a pre-school teacher for over thirty years, I have reblogged several of her posts because they demonstrate how a dedicated and passionate teacher can ignite imagination and a passion for books and music in the very young. Here is a post from 2014 on the importance of conversation outside of classroom hours.

Lunchtime conversations in the classroom: It’s Important by Jennie Fitzkee

I thought you might enjoy a a little verbal window into my classroom at 12:00 PM. Is it chaos or is it beneficial?

Yes, there is chaos. The logistics of of getting fifteen children set up for…

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Always Go With The Flow- Books and Singing

From books, to mending, to singing

I have so many books in my classroom for children to access all the time.  Books are the doorway to learning.  If they’re available for children at all times, reading becomes exciting.  It certainly is in my classroom.

Every September, our books become torn, “well loved.”  The good thing is children are constantly reading books.  Reminders of taking care of books often go out the window when school begins.  In an effort to bring taking care of books into a hands-on lesson, I decided to set up a book mending table as an activity.  Children brought me any and all books that needed mending.  They watched me carefully tape rips so that words and illustrations matched.  They were fascinated.  More importantly, they got a big dose of book care.  There’s nothing better than hands-on learning.

What happened next was a surprise.  Thank goodness I always go with the flow.

I mended a favorite book, This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie.

Children love this book.  The illustrations are so detailed that we often have an impromptu history lesson, from the Grand Canyon to Manhattan Island.  Interestingly, the cover of the book refers to the pictures as paintings, not illustrations.  That speaks to why children are drawn in.  We love singing the song, the words to the book.  My goodness, it was nearly on its last legs, so there was a lot of repair work involved.  As I taped the pages I couldn’t help but sing the words to myself, quietly.  The children who were with me, watching the mending, must have felt like a warm blanket had covered them.  They snuggled in and looked at the page.  They began to sing, too.

Music is the arrow that pierces the heart.  Books are the doorway to the heart.  The combination of the two is remarkable.

Singing a book makes the words come to life.  Well, music and singing makes life come alive.  I sing at school all the time, and rarely is it structured.  The playground and the bathroom have been the best places to sing, because it just happens.  A look, a hug, a sad face… that is a recipe for singing.  It doesn’t matter what I sing, it only matters that I sing.

Music is a stimulant to the brain.  Movement is a stimulant to the brain.  Put the two together, and children learn!  It was only natural that I pulled out the autoharp to sing “This Land is Your Land” after our book mending and singing.  With the autoharp we stood, belted out the song, moved and jumped.  It was a good thing.

Read with no boundaries and stop at every word or moment.  Sing with no agenda and stop to rhyme or be funny, or to help a child.


Posted in books, Early Education, music, picture books, reading aloud, Singing, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 69 Comments

Posts from your Archives – This Was a Great Day by Jennie Fitzkee

This is my very first blog post, the wonders of teaching and what really happens in the classroom. Inspiring! Thank you for sharing this, Sally.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

I recently invited you to share some of your posts from your archives. It is a way of giving your earlier or favourite posts a chance to be read by a different audience. Mine.  Details of how you can participate is at the end of the post.

Jennie Fitzkee has been a pre-school teacher for over thirty years, I have reblogged several of her posts because they demonstrate how a dedicated and passionate teacher can ignite imagination and a passion for books and music in the very young. This was Jennie’s very first blog post and a sample of her entertaining and informative articles on A Teacher’s Reflections: Thirty Years of Wonder

This Was a Great Day by Jennie Fitzkee

Romana, Geography, Milly, and ‘Blind Travel’

“The Story of Learning, and a Great Day in the Aqua Room”

The best learning often takes place at unexpected times. As teachers, we…

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Brinkmanship #midnighthaiku

I was struck with this beautiful writing, describing how we view the start of our day and the choices we make. “The dawn brings it’s own gifts. My daily task is to see them.” YES! I’m a teacher, and this is what I do every day. “Children bring their own gifts. My daily task is to see them.”

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Rising in silence
Spirit of sorrow and joy
Erasing the night

I watch the sun rise from my doorstep. Inside, the humdrum necessities await. Outside, the small dog explores the garden with the same excitement every morning. Birds sing, the weather, fair or foul, reveals itself and adds its definition to the possibilities to come. I am poised on the brink of belief.

I have a choice. I can face the day ahead with weariness, plodding through its demands, resentment building. I can accept the daily gauntlet of challenges. Or embrace them with open arms, knowing that what comes, must be. The dawn brings its own gifts. My daily task is to see them.

For Colleen’s anniversary challenge

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We can all learn the important things in life from a dog.

K. D. Dowdall

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Understanding Art and Heart

In September, I send large folders home to children and their families to decorate, together.  Throughout the year, these folders are used to transport their child’s art work each time we send it home.  It’s our Art Pony Express, delivering precious cargo all year long.  Decorating the folder together is a nice family activity.  More importantly, it says that art is important– and a child’s work is important.  Because it is.

The folders have been decorated and returned.  They are beautiful and heartfelt.  Today one of our youngest child’s folder was returned.  My throat swelled.  So did my heart.

Yes!  Art is a universal language.  The parents understand.  This drawing was hard work for a child who is not yet three-years-old.  Look at the focus and multiple colors.  The child wanted to say, “I really like art”, yet he does not yet have all those words that are in his heart.  What he does have is art tools to speak his words.  And he spoke them well.

Yes, art is a universal language.

I have a handful of paperclipped writings and quotes beside my computer.  They mean the world to me.  When I saw this decorated folder, I immediately thought of “It took me a lifetime to learn to draw like a child.” by Picasso, and “I would like to paint the way a bird sings.” by Monet.  This parent eclipsed them and said it best of all.


Posted in art, Early Education, Imagination, Inspiration, Quotes, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , | 33 Comments