Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Magical Educator, a Wonderful School and CHALK

I'm sure that every children's book author or illustrator dreams that their work might inspire or impact a child in some small way. When I created my wordless book, CHALK, I hoped that it could have educational applications for writing and artistic activities. On March 18, 2011, that hope became a reality because of the incredible efforts of a caring principal in Pasadena, California.

Alyson Beecher of San Rafael Elementary School is an amazing principal... and not just because she likes my book (ha, ha). Her commitment to providing her students with special and unique experiences makes her truly special as an educator and administrator.

Alyson had contacted me by email in October and told me that she liked CHALK. She also informed me that she was a principal at a small elementary school and hoped to incorporate the book into a literacy activity at her school. What she did is truly remarkable and exceeded anything that I could have imagined.

Alyson is a master organizer and worked with her faculty to create a wonderful array of activities related to CHALK. It began with each teacher reading the book in class and developing diverse age-appropriate literacy lessons around it. This included using the book as a writing prompt to add words to the visual story, using it as a point of departure for writing new stories, writing poems, writing questions for each letter of the title, and creating amazing artwork. All of these activities were centered on engaging the students's imaginations in a variety of fun ways.

The literacy event concluded in spectacular fashion with the students, all 350 of them, decorating the sidewalks with chalk drawings outside of their school. To accomplish this, Alyson enlisted the help of numerous people to create an amazing day. The wonderful teachers at San Rafael energized the students and made the event special. Volunteers decorated bags for the children to replicate the one in CHALK. The PTO purchased chalk to fill the bags. Alyson invited local chalk artists to join the children in the event. Local law enforcement monitored traffic so the children could safely create their drawings. Vroman's, a local independent bookstore, made books available to the students. And of course, the students of San Rafael used their imagination and creativity to produce beautiful work. To see the fantastic event that Alyson and her friends made, watch this incredible video:

My publisher, Marshall Cavendish, also contributed to the event by sending out 350 posters, one for each of the students.

I sent signed copies of my books, some pencils that I drew CHALK with, and the raincoat and hat that my model wore in the book. On my letter in the package, I had drawn a little doodle of the San Rafael mascot and a dinosaur that Alyson put on the event announcement.

When Alyson sent me the video and photos of her event, I was absolutely amazed at what she did for her students. She wanted to provide them with an experience to promote books and literacy, but I think she did much more than that. Through all of her efforts and planning, she also showed them how much she cares for them and what can be accomplished when everyone works together! I feel very fortunate to have created a book that Alyson liked and used in such a special way for her students. 

I will be in Pasadena this fall on a trip with my school and plan to visit San Rafael to meet Alyson and her students. I would like to thank Alyson, her many teachers and volunteers, and especially her wonderful students for bringing CHALK to life. I think anyone who looks at the video and photos will agree that they all did a BEAUTIFUL job!!! I hope Alyson's efforts inspire other teachers and students to try conducting similar literacy events with books that they like. BOOKS ARE MAGICAL... Alyson Beecher and San Rafael Elementary School proved it!