There are some people who play an important role in your classroom without ever being there -- the authors and illustrators whose words and images capture your children's imagination. Through their books, these authors become part of your classroom group -- like good friends, children come to recognize and look forward to seeing them.
When we talk about authors, ponder their craft, learn about their lives, and devour their work, we invite children to take an insider's look at the art and craft of writing and illustrating. Children come to see books as the work of individuals and to connect the process authors go through to the steps they themselves follow to create their own books.
An in-depth study of a particular author is a wonderful way to involve children in exploring themes, characters, rhythm, and story patterns and structure. Children develop an understanding of the elements of stories and illustrations and learn to compare and contrast books by the same author.
Finding a Focus
Perhaps it's the illustrations that first catch a child's eye. Children often recognize books created by the same author-illustrator, picking up on the similarities in the style, technique, and materials.
A good author-illustrator to study is Denise Fleming, both for her unusual illustration technique - using brightly colored paper pulp and for her repetitive writing style. Invite children to discuss and compare the books chances are they'll notice a lot. One kindergarten group discovered that Denise Fleming usually writes about animals. They also grasped the rhythmic similarities between the text and title of In the Small, Small Pond and In the Tall, Tall Grass. Not surprisingly, this discussion inspired children to write their own book. Using a blender to make handmade paper out of scrap pieces of cardboard, children illustrated their book in Denise Fleming's style and titled it - what else? - In the Big, Big Kindergarten.
Once you've studied an author's work, it can be informative to compare it with that of another author. A good author to compare with Denise Fleming is Leo Lionni. He also uses paper in an interesting way - creating collages out of torn paper - and writes mostly about animals. Children may notice the differences in the authors' writing style: While Fleming uses short rhymes and phrases, Lionni tells detailed stories. After a study of Lionni's work, providing a supply of wrapping paper and wallpaper scraps can be enough to inspire the budding authors and illustrators in your class.
Books that portray the adventures of a particular character are often favorites with children. Lyle the Crocodile, Little Bear, Clifford, and Arthur are familiar friends for many. Children are happy to see these characters and eager to discover what new situation they'll encounter. These books lend themselves to character analysis and making predictions how will Arthur respond to this problem? - and often lead children to create their own version of the character's latest escapade.
A good choice for a character study is the wonderful series written and illustrated by Giles Tobo. The books are all about Simon, a little boy with great ideas and sometimes impossible dreams. Children revel in Simon's creative attempts at problem-solving and relate to his experiences. The stories are fun for children to reenact and can lead to writing new adventures for Simon.
And, of course, your favorite author is always a great one to study. Children will pick up on your enthusiasm as you explain why the books are special to you. After all, an important part of what makes authors worth studying is how we respond to them.