We have another first today--our first Guest Teaching Author interview with a Teaching Author who is also an Illustrator: Elizabeth O. Dulemba!
We are pleased to be part of Elizabeth's blog tour for her first picture book as both author and illustrator, Soap, Soap, Soap ~ Jabón, Jabón, Jabón (available in bilingual and all-English versions) published by Raven Tree Press. See the end of this post for information on how to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy!
Elizabeth is the award-winning illustrator of seven trade picture books. She speaks regularly at conferences, schools, and events, and once a year, she teaches "Creating Picture Books" at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. She is the Illustrators' Coordinator for the Southern region of the Society of Children's book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is on the Board for the Georgia Center for the Book, where she is a strong advocate for the children's writing community.
Elizabeth, can you tell us how you became a Teaching Author/Illustrator?
I've always said if I wasn't a children's book author/illustrator, I'd be a teacher. One of my regrets in life is that I didn't stick around for an MFA in college--a degree which would have opened doors to teach in colleges and private schools. I still hope to achieve the degree someday. In the mean time, I have taught every chance I could through alternate means. I was a substitute teacher straight out of college; taught Beginning Drawing through the Chattanooga Arts Center in Tennessee; speak regularly at schools (grade school through adult), conferences and events; and teach 'Creating Picture Books' once a year at the John C. Campbell Folk School. I love to teach--it's a constant puzzle. Every student absorbs information differently and it's up to me to figure out how to relay that information in a way it will be best understood by each particular brain. It's a challenge that I adore.
What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address/answer it?
In line with what I mentioned above, if a student doesn't understand what I'm trying to relay, I have to approach the information differently--until I find the way that person learns best. Low attention spans can also be a challenge (even in adults!). I try to keep things dynamic to keep everybody engaged. (Full-time teachers must have amazing energy--I wish they could bottle it.) If I see I'm losing a student, I'll direct a question to him or her to pull them back in.
Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?
Since I am an illustrator first, my exercise has a craft/visual element. I have students create a mini-book with a strip of paper--creating four panels with three folds. They divide the story they're working on into four categories, one for each of the four panels:
1) Introduce a problem, want, or desire
2) Present obstacles
Even for adults, I pull out a box of markers and have them decorate their "mini-dummies." It's something fun to show, but it also helps them define the key components of their stories.
What a great exercise for picture book writers! Can you share how you were drawn to the writing side of picture book creation?
My journey into writing is an ironic one. I was identified as an artist at a very early age. So when the writing showed up a little later, it wasn't given much credence. After all, you only get 'One Thing,' right? However, my drawings were always illustrations of the stories filling my head, and I wrote in my drawing pads too--poems, stories, you name it. I kept a diary for years (volumes and volumes), but I never really knew I was a writer until I finally dove into my dream of creating picture books full time. My first attempts were pretty awful, but then I started getting comments like, "She can obviously write," or "She's a beautiful writer." Those meant so much to me. And even though my first picture book as both illustrator AND author is now out, I'm not sure I feel like a 'real' writer yet. I'm not sure what will do it.
It's kind of like with my illustrations. I was an in-house illustrator, making my living from my art for fifteen years. But I didn't feel like a 'real' illustrator until I traveled to New York for the SCBWI Portfolio Show at the Society of Illustrators. I joke that I circled the building seven times and pounded that New York pavement. After that trip, I finally felt like a bona fide illustrator.
Soap, Soap, Soap is a variation on a classic Appalachian Jack Tale. Can you tell us how you came to write this story?
I have long been a fan of the Jack Tales. Something about the Appalachians and the culture there has pulled at me my entire life. So when Raven Tree Press approached me to illustrate Paco and the Giant Chile Plant, a bilingual adaptation of "Jack and the Beanstalk," I jumped at it. Not only was it a Jack Tale, but it was my excuse to finally learn Spanish. (Raven Tree specializes in bilingual picture books.) Happily, Paco did very well for Raven Tree and they wanted another.
I presented Soap to my publishers when they were in town for IRA and they flipped over it. However, the new tale fit better in a modern day setting. So Paco became Hugo, and the old Chihuahuan desert became a small town in South Georgia. The rest will, I hope, be a very happy and successful journey.
Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use Soap, Soap, Soap in the classroom?
Yes! I've created an entire activity page on my Web site. It includes coloring sheets, puzzles, recipes, and other activities that can be used at home or in the classroom.
I'm also thrilled to share that the Alliance Theatre's Teaching Artists program has picked up Soap as one of their main books this season. They focus on the basic concepts of getting muddy and getting clean. For instance, where can you get mud on you? Your elbows, your knees, etc. What does mud feel like and smell like? Once you've gotten muddy, how do you get clean? Do you take a bath and scrub?
Teachers are using Soap to introduce hygiene in their classrooms. Anastasia Suen has also posted a mini-lesson tying the book to a related topic of hand-washing and learning to stay clean--an important topic in this Swine Flu season.
Along with these basic ideas, Soap can be used with my previous (illustrated) picture book, Paco and the Giant Chile Plant (written by Keith Polette) to discuss how folktales evolve over time. Both books are adaptations of classic Appalachian Jack Tales that were passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, from Cornwall, England to the Chihuahua desert in Mexico. Playing "telephone" is a great way to discuss how stories change and evolve as they travel from teller to teller and how stories can become uniquely our own when we tell them our own way.
Elizabeth, thanks so much for taking time to talk with us today. And special thanks for providing an autographed copy of your book for our giveaway. Readers who'd like to learn more about Elizabeth and her books can visit her Web site.
Instructions for entering our giveaway drawing are provided below. But first, you may want to watch the trailer for Soap, Soap, Soap ~ Jabón, Jabón, Jabón:
Now, for the contest requirements:
To enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Soap, Soap, Soap in your choice of a bilingual or all-English edition, you must post a comment giving us the title of one of your favorite folktales, and the reason behind your choice. To qualify, your entry must be posted by midnight, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009 (CST). The winner will be announced on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009. Be sure to provide an email address where we can reach you! See this post for our complete giveaway guidelines.
We look forward to reading your comments. Good luck, everyone! And don't forget to watch for another book giveaway coming VERY soon.