Nick’s Picks: Focusing on illustrators

This post was originally published in Nick Glass’ monthly column for Curriculum Connections, an e-newsletter published by School Library Journal in partnership with Subscribe to this free newsletter here.

Integrating books throughout content areas and encouraging collaboration between library media specialists and classroom teachers are central to my work with In this post, I present opportunities for you to partner with art teachers as you invite illustrators to share their passion for art in a classroom setting.

Watch an original movie with five-time Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award-recipients Leo and Diane Dillon demonstrating how they create art together. Learn how to pronounce Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner’s name, and garner specific activities to use with older students that offer insight into the genius and playfulness of David Macaulay’s book illustrations. And finally, listen to the ever-popular Tomie dePaola read from his autobiographical picture book, The Art Lesson.

Leo and Diane Dillon

Collaboration! Watch this brief movie featuring Leo and Diane Dillon as they reveal their team approach to illustration.

Can you imagine drawing with a partner—passing a picture back and forth, and at each turn, reworking and elaborating on what the other person just did? That’s how the Dillons have created art for dozens of books, including the illustrations for Verna Aardema’s Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (Dial, 1975), Ellen Jackson’s Earth Mother (Walker, 2005), and Margaret Musgrove’s Ashanti to Zulu (Dial, 1976). In this original movie, watch this award-winning team as they draw, and discuss their creative process and their books.

Practicum: Collaboration is central to many school activities, and this movie offers insight into the workings of an inspired duo. After viewing the movie encourage your students to consider how they could form a “third artist,” as the Dillons describe their process. Explore what strategies can be used to merge the strengths of each person in a joint art project, and discuss obstacles that can get in the way of making a richer, more satisfying image or end product, and some possible solutions.

David Wiesner

Is it WHEEZ-ner or WEYEs-ner? Despite his having won the Caldecott Medal three times (for Tuesday, [1991]; The Three Pigs, [2001]; and most recently, Flotsam [2006, all Clarion Books]), David Wiesner’s name is often mispronounced.  Hear the correct pronunciation of David Wiesner’s name.

Practicum: Learn the correct pronunciation of the name of this often-studied author/illustrator. What other words can you think of that exhibit the same pronunciation of “ie”?

David Macaulay

Explore storytelling through the illustrations in David Macaulay’s books with this discussion and activity guide.

David Macaulay, author of The New Way Things Work (1998), Cathedral (1973, both Houghton), and numerous other titles, was recently recognized as a genius by the MacArthur Foundation. In honor of his work, the Foundation noted, “David Macaulay is a visual storyteller whose illustrated books demystify the workings and origins of objects as mundane as a stapler and as monumental as a cathedral. While he modestly classifies himself an ‘explainer,’ Macaulay’s elegant drawings, wry humor, and clear descriptions of the simplest and most complex structures and machines are sophisticated and entertaining educational experiences for both children and adults.”

Practicum: Use this discussion and activity guide, along with an armful of Macaulay’s books, to stimulate discussions with your middle and high school students on the many ways in which pictures tell stories. Play with the visual puns in Shortcut (1999); extend mapping activities with Rome Antics (1997); and review Underground (1983) to see how illustrations can reveal something as omnipresent yet unfamiliar as the support system of a busy city. With Motel of the Mysteries (1979, all Houghton), older students will LOL when considering how we need the context of an object to understand its function. Otherwise, blunders by earnest archeologists might include interpreting a toilet seat as “The Sacred Collar” and a shower cap as “The Ceremonial Burial Cap.” Enjoy!

Tomie dePaola

Hear award-winning artist Tomie dePaola reminisce about his early love of drawing in this reading from The Art Lesson. Listen now.

Have you ever noticed that, when asked, most early elementary school children will define themselves as artists, but in response to the same question five years later, few respond affirmatively? In this reading of an excerpt from Tomie dePaola’s The Art Lesson (Books on Tape / Listening Library), students will hear of the artist’s youthful enthusiasm for drawing.

Practicum: Ask your students if they consider themselves artists, whether that assessment has changed over the years, and why. Look over some of dePaola’s books, and play this recording for your class. What are they passionate about?

Posted by Nick Glass, Founder & Executive Director of

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