Sunday, January 15, 2012

An Example of Studying Author's Voice and Writer's Craft With an Author Study

   I am sharing some posts which help to illustrate various ways to look at the author's voice and how the art of writer's craft is studied in an author's study. I originally posted this on my prior blog called Under the Tree and Reading.  I was a second grade classroom teacher when I wrote this post. The book Here We All Are (or the first book in the series 26 Fairmont Avenue) by Tomie dePaola can be used with 2-4 graders. 

DePaola, T. (2000). Here We All Are. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
     Tomie DePaola is always one of the first featured authors I delved into studying with my second graders each fall. My personal favorites of his are the ones that are auto-biographical in nature, perhaps partially or fully inspired by the truth. His distinctive drawing style is recognizable in any of his books, whether it's a story relating to his childhood or to series such as Strega Nona, the Barkers, or Bill and Pete. In his "26 Fairmont Avenue" series of memoirs, he writes the collection in beginning chapter book style, with illustrations that are in printed in black and white (except on the cover.) Here We All Are is the second in the series. This follows the book that launched the series, 26 Fairmont Avenue, which was a Newbery Honor winner.

     In Here We All Are, Tomie is 5 years old in this selection that picks up where the first memoir left off, and he writes in the voice and perspective of a young child, which makes his writing so accessible to children who love to “reflect on the good old days of when they were young.” (Kindergarten was so long ago to them, you know!) The voice DePaola writes in as Tomie is fresh and casual, nothing stuffy or all knowing at all, and that’s what my kids like. It’s like hearing him on the tape where he is talking to them, not at them. With the prior knowledge of our autobiographical picture books, the students and I  viewed a DePaola video clip. The students loved the first 26 Fairmount Avenue so much, I picked up the second one which I didn’t have. They felt like they were getting to sit and "visit" with him again. One of the things the kids laughed at was when Tomie said that his mom told him his furniture was “genuine maple” and “When no one was looking, I liked the bedpost to see if it tasted like maple syrup or the maple candies we got sometimes. It didn’t.” You can hear his disappointment punctuated with the two word sentence at the end, but the kids think it’s cool that he shared that goofy, embarrassing thing he did as a child with them. Just as when I read the first book in the series, the students were able to make text-to-text connections to some of his picture books, such as when he discusses how his Kindergarten teacher mixed powder paints and how awful they were (as in The Art Lesson.) He also explains things in a simple, concise way if he feels the reader may not understand, such as what a lavatory is or a “monitor top” refrigerator, so to introduce a few things from the past without going overboard. The kids get to “visit” with Tom and his Nana again, just like in the picture book Tom, and hear about Nana Fall River visiting to take care of him when his new baby sister is born. Overall, this edition is a light, fresh read of DePaola reminiscing with the reader at a very readable, identifiable level.

     One quote that I have printed up that DePaola said I extract from his website  is when he says that his job as an illustrator is to “make the invisible visible.” Three more that I highlight with my students comes from his video tape which we have at our school media center. One quote is: “Be willing to practice over and over again. Be willing to fix your writing.” The second is: “If you read books, you can read everything about anything and anything about everything.” The last one is: “If you want to be a writer, you have to read, because that’s how you learn about writing.” I think those three quotes are particularly powerful because my students hear Tomie talking to them as near equals, and I always try to set that tone with my students. They are being told they are not just writers, but authors. With DePaola’s role modeling of fun fantasy stories as well as his memoirs straight from everyday memories from growing up where he remembers what it’s like to be a kid, my students seem to have a special respect for him. DePaola is a mentor author to these apprenticing students who are finding their own voice as authors!

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for sharing this. We have a couple of DePaola books, but I'll have to pick up this series.