Me: In Poetry, Song, and Art by Michelle Currin, writer and teacher, discusses what she learned at a particularly meaningful and inspiring professional development course, a “Picture Book Read In.”  At this educators event, Currin and other teachers, were able to explore new books that were especially geared towards our right-brained, creative side.  This Playful Learning blog focuses on biographies and autobiographies for children about poets and artists. The three books highlighted in this piece are Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess (about poet  e. e. cummings), Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews (an autobiography about a musician), and Draw What You See by Kathleen Benson (about fine artist Benny Andrews).  

The value of sharing educational, factual books with children is enormous. Currin writes: Picture books easily engage children in non-fiction text, and these books can easily integrate reading, writing, and the arts. The more connections children can make across domains, the more effective learning opportunities become.”  

What is especially fantastic about using a non-fiction book like Trombone Shorty is that the book can be easily adapted to suit different ages, populations, and grades.  An entire lesson plan can be built around learning about e. e. cummings.  For example, have the class read the book Enormous Smallness followed by an ELA teaching lesson on wordplay and poetry.  Depending on the grade level, the children can close the activity by writing their own autobiographical poem.  Currin comments: “Extending the reading of a book with supplemental experiences enhances children’s’ understanding as well.”

For older grade levels, the teacher can present several biographies and then compare and contrast the lives of the artists, how each found inspiration, and developed their talents (ie: Venn Diagram-collage hybrid activity). In teaching reading comprehension, one of the primary goals in processing non-fiction is to find and break down factual information.  Using picture books like the three Currin features can help children process non-fiction material in an interest-arousing and engaging way.  

Sharing stories about artists and poets can have a profound impact on the life of a child.  There is no greater achievement for a teacher than to inspire a student to reach their potential.Each of us has a spark of life inside us, and our highest endeavor ought to be to set off that spark in one another.” – Kenny Ausubel.  

Note: One of the books Two Right Feet presents, Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles- Think of That! by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon is about the innovative and gifted tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  We build a lesson plan around learning about this talented, American-born dancer and how we can express ourselves through dance just like “Bojangles”.