We have such an amazing community. Anytime we have a wish or a dream that we put out there, we somehow find a way to make it happen. This year, our supportive PTA budgeted money for us to have a school-wide author or illustrator visit. These types of visits are huge learning experiences for our students because they connect them to the real people behind the books on our shelves and inspire their own art and stories. Author/illustrator visits are hard to do for an entire school every year because they take a lot of financial support to pay speaking fees and travel for the author/illustrator. I am so thankful that our PTA brought Gregory Christie to our school this year for every grade.
R. Gregory Christie has been working as an illustrator for over 20 years.
He has illustrated over fifty books,as well as collaborated with clients
such as The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vibe, The Wall Street Journal,
The New York Times, The Kennedy Center, Pete Seeger, Queen Latifah ,
and Karyn Parsons on a variety of projects.
Our day kicked off with Kindergarten and 1st grade in their own sessions. Mr. Christie took time to read a bit of A Chance to Shine and talk about how he connects the text of the story to his art. What the students in these grades loved the most was seeing an illustration come to life before their eyes. It was like magic. Mr. Christie got the students to come up with some drawing ideas. They wanted a cat. Then he asked them to think about more details, so they added a bad cat from Korea. Using these details, he started to draw. He constantly checked in with them to see if his drawing was matching the text. If it wasn’t, they gave him reminders and held him accountable for what to draw. I loved how he connected this to what an editor does.
During our 1st grade visit, we had a bit of excitement: a real fire emergency. We all had to evacuate while fire trucks and firefighters came to investigate our building. The kids were fantastic, and Mr. Christie was so flexible with this unexpected part of our day. First grade came back in for a few more minutes and we adjusted our schedule for the rest of the day.
Our 2nd and 3rd graders had a chance to really study some paintings and consider the mood of them. They also compared two paintings to see what was similar and different.
These students loved it when Mr. Christie drew the face of Jazz Baby but then let students come up and collaborate on the drawing to help tell a story. They only had few seconds to add to the drawing. He started asking them to be accountable for their work by telling what they were trying to achieve by drawing what they did. After several students, he came in and added his own twist to the drawing.
Mr. Christie visited both PreK classes individually and read Jazzy Baby and A Chance to Shine. Then, he took time to draw Jazz Baby and some other things like birds and dogs. The kids loved having those illustrations left in their class. My favorite part of this time was when the PreK students were able to show him their artwork and talk about what they did in their own artwork that was inspired by his artwork. This was so empowering for our smallest students.
In our 4th and 5th grade, students had a special treat. They saw Mr. Christie’s first book that he has written and illustrated. It isn’t published yet, but they were treated to parts of the F & G version of the book. He also took them through several of the books and how the illustrations came together. Students saw the very first book that Gregory Christie did called Palm of My Heart. It was great to see this first book side by side with the newest book to see how his illustrations changed or stayed the same. Students shared a lot about why Mousetropolis stood out to them with its cute mice and its vibrant colors. These students were also treated to a special video production that is yet to be released about an African American ballet performer. It was a session full of special opportunities for our students.
I loved capturing some words from Gregory Chrisitie throughout the day. Students heard:
“When a book starts it’s a manuscript. When the book it comes to me. The words can help you feel that it’s an upbeat bright colored book.”
“It’s graphic. You see a lot of negative and positive space.”
It takes about a year to do a book.
Body language is important when you are illustrating a book.
I know these students will remember this visit for years to come. We now have all of our Gregory Christie books autographed and ready for checkout in the library. Thank you again to our PTA for this opportunity, and thank you Avid Bookshop for helping with our book sales.