The American Library Association just held its annual Midwinter Conference in Atlanta, and that meant that some amazing authors and illustrators were in town. One of the speakers at ALA Midwinter was LeUyen Pham. Who has worked on over 80 picture books! Her current picture book is The Bear Who Wasn’t There and it is one she wrote and illustrated. We were so thankful when her publisher, MacMillan, reached out to Avid Bookshop to offer a visit with a local school to celebrate her new book.
The Bear Who Wasn’t There is a hilarious tale that invites the reader along to look for a bear who has gone missing from the book. There’s evidence of a bear along the way, but the reader and the animals in the story just can’t seem to find him. Meanwhile, the duck in the story uses the bear’s absence to show off some magic tricks and try to sell his own books. This book has a lot of mischief and laughs along the way, and readers might just discover a bear if they look very carefully.
We didn’t learn about the opportunity to host LeUyen until late December, so the prep time for this visit was very short. Normally, I try to have students make decorations, but it was tricky to pull off this time. Instead, we really focused on reading the books. I pulled all of LeUyen’s books from our library and showed lots of classes the huge range of illustrations she has created from Freckleface Strawberry to Vampirina Ballerina to Alvin Ho to Princess in Black and more. We read several of her books as well including The Bear Who Wasn’t There. Every class laughed out loud on every single page. We also took time to learn how to pronounce LeUyen’s name by listening to it on TeachingBooks.net
With over 350 K-3 students in the audience, LeUyen was magical! With her twinkle fingers, she sprinkled the room with focus and students were hanging on every word. She took them on a journey by looking at some of her very first drawings to the drawings she does as an adult. Students learned about movies that she worked on before she became an illustrator such as Prince of Egypt and Spirit. She did some storytelling as she recounted her journey to Africa sketching scenery and animals. LeUyen pulled out one of her many notebooks and showed students how she sketches everywhere she goes.
One of the moments I loved, was when she told students that she doesn’t spend too much time on one drawing. In fact she shared some pretty amazing drawings that she created in less than 15 minutes. She always draws in pen. With a pen, you can’t erase your mistakes, so you can look back at those mistakes and learn from them. That one statement has so many connections within and beyond art. I want to bring that idea back up with students as we create together.
Next, LeUyen read A Piece of Cake, which is a perfect story for a big group read aloud. There are so many unexpected things at each page turn and the kids had a blast shouting out what they thought mouse and bird would trade cake or objects for.
To close her time, LeUyen created some illustrations. Students were selected from the audience, and she turned each of these models into an animal version of themselves reading a book. While drawing animals with the features of our student models, she also took questions from the audience about her inspiration, her longest and shortest books, and more.
It was during this time that we heard about how a student at a school could suddenly become the inspiration for an illustration as one student did for Grace for President. You just never know where your next idea may come from, so LeUyen is always watching, listening, and sketching her world.
Our young readers listed to LeUyen for an hour, and I was so proud of their excitement for her. She is such an inspiring and sweet person who is insanely talented at illustrating. I know her books will fly off our library shelves, and I can’t wait to see what students create and talk about after exploring her books.
As she left, LeUyen signed lots of books. She lovingly included an illustration in each book she signed. If you didn’t get a book at the visit, we have many books for checkout in the library or you can visit Avid Bookshop to purchase one. As always, we are thankful to publishers like MacMillan for sending authors and illustrators to independent bookshops and schools. Thank you, LeUyen, for spending part of your travels with us and sharing your talents and stories. Thank you to Avid Bookshop for connecting with your community and enriching the reading and creative lives of students.