I teach in a progressive school with multiage classrooms that ranges from 2 and a half year olds to 5th grade. In October, I did an author study with the 6/7s on one of my favorite authors, Leo Lionni. We spent the month reading his books, talking about his artwork, and learning about his life. The study culminated with a collaborative project with the art teacher. Below are some of the details.
I introduced the kids to Leo Lionni by showing them the book Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art. It's a beautiful book with fold out pages of illustrators working in their studios, some of their early art, pictures of them as kids, and each of them has written a page about why they became an artist. The entry for Leo Lionni is written by his granddaughter Annie, for whom he wrote his first book Little Blue and Little Yellow, which was a perfect segue into our reading that as our first book. We then read read Inch by Inch and compared the stories and styles.
Random House has a great Leo Lionni website and I showed a video each week to the kids from their gallery. The videos are about 2 minutes long and are Leo Lionni talking about his childhood, why he writes about animals, etc. They are very sweet and make him come to life for the kids. One of the videos I showed after we had read Frederick was a video of Leo making a paper mouse by just tearing the paper and then I had the kids do it. It was a really great and easy project to do and the kids loved it. Here are some of their mice. After they made their mice, some kids got even more creative and made cats and dogs.
The week before we read Frederick, we had read Swimmy, at which point the art teacher began talking to the kids about Leo Lionni as well. She talked to them much more in depth about his techniques and also had a lot of examples of his books available to look at in the studio. The children began to experiment sponge painting with different textures and also talked a lot about collage and some of his other styles. This year as part of their classroom study, they are studying farmers markets and farms, so they had just taken a trip to the Union Square farmers market. Here is their Leo Lionni inspired farmers market mural they wound up creating.
We finished by reading Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse, although in some classes we also read additional stories if there was time. Throughout the month, I also used some of the biographical material on the Random House website. The kids loved the books and I really enjoyed being able to collaborate with the art teacher and it meant a lot for the kids, too.
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