Written & Illustrated By…, a Project Week project that involves Middle School students writing and illustrating their own picture books, had an exciting week this year!
We started out the week under somewhat unusual circumstances. Karen Mihata, my co-teacher for this project for the last four years, had jury duty and was unable to attend the first three days of the project. Fortunately, I was able to call on the help of a good college friend of mine, Mary Jane Beaufrand. Mrs. Beaufrand has had experience not only as a writing teacher, but as a writer herself, having had two YA books published in recent years. (Primavera is an historical mystery taking place during the rule of the Medici in Italy, and The River is a modern thriller taking place in her home state of Oregon. Both are aimed at 9th grade and above, and can be checked out of the Overlake Library.) Mary Jane did a stellar job with the students and brought us doughnuts every morning, so she was a big hit all around.
On day one of the the project, our four boys and eight girls got a crash course in writing, formed the ‘Ninja Squirrel’ publishing company (name by popular vote), and settled in to write their stories. Over the course of that day and the first half of the next, they not only wrote, but each acted as story editor for another participant and critiqued their work. Mrs. Beaufrand and I also read and critiqued each story, working with the writer on both overall writing and those little nitpicky details that give your story a polished look. Everyone rewrote their text at least twice, and we were all really proud of the final works. Most were fiction—several animal stories, a school story, a fantasy, a baseball story, a mystery—but we also had one poetry book and one recounting of an exciting adventure the student had in Australia.
On day two, the students received a crash course in how to lay out a picture book and how to adapt their artwork to work for a picture book. We discussed suiting the illustrations to the style of the book and making the illustrations bolder and easy to see from a distance. Then we assigned everyone a student art editor, and work began on the interior illustrations. Most students took their sketchbooks home to continue their work. While most chose colored pencil as their medium, one chose painting, one chose computer drawing, and another chose to mix photography with colored pencil for an unusual effect.
On day three we talked about book jacket illustrations and the information that goes on book jacket flaps. I showed the students several published books, and we discussed what made a good or bad cover. Following this, the students worked on their book jackets, with help from their student editors and student art directors. They also continued work on their interior illustrations and made the final cosmetic revisions to their stories.
Day four was busy! Mrs. Mihata returned in time to tell the students about title pages and half-title pages, and students designed these with input from their student art directors. Throughout the busy day everyone worked at their own paces, completing title and half-title pages and any other illustrations that needed finishing. Many laid out their text and pictures to see how they would go together and where changes might need to be made, such as adding an illustration or moving text from one page to another. Near the end of the day students prepared their ‘signature sheets’—the 11x17”cover-stock sheets on which they would glue all their text and illustrations—and sewed them together with carpet thread.
Day five, a half-day, we spent on paste-up. Students trimmed their artwork and text (many thanks to all the teachers who lent us their paper cutters!), pasted all their text and illustrations onto the signature sheets, and completed their book jackets. Many were done early and helped with clean-up prior to our authors’ party, but many worked up until the last minute if they found they needed another illustration or if their illustrations were full-page spreads with lots of detail. The final step for each author was to have his or her book jacket covered in plastic just like a library book. During the party, each proud author/illustrator presented their book to the parents and siblings who came to admire them.
Overall we had a great week, with some fantastic books created. Please come check them out at the library after break, where they will be on display until the end of April.