Clark Elementary School draws attention to Literacy Month

April 29, 2014

By Peter Clark

Literacy, dogs and polar bears, oh my.

Students at Clark Elementary School kicked off Literacy Month with a two-day visit from author Erik Brooks on April 17.

The longtime author and illustrator of children’s books hosted a wide range of presentations and workshops for all nine grades. Brooks, of Winthrop, has not only made a career out of creating books, but he also regularly takes part in working with children.

By Peter Clark Children’s book author Erik Brooks shows Clark Elementary School students a book he illustrated, ‘Who Has These Feet?’

By Peter Clark
Children’s book author Erik Brooks shows Clark Elementary School students a book he illustrated, ‘Who Has These Feet?’

“I love them,” Brooks said about presentations and sharing the creative process. “At one point, I dreamt of being a K through 12 art teacher.”

In his 14 years as an author, he has written, illustrated and published four books, and illustrated even more. His first began with a drawing of a polar bear — he really likes polar bears — wearing pajamas. He thought about what would lead a polar bear to wear pajamas and in time he wrote “The Practically Perfect Pajamas” to tell the whole story.

The 41-year-old author also draws a weekly comic strip for the Methow Valley News called Hart’s Pass, which he also believes can help teach the basics of writing to children.

“Even if it’s just a comic strip, it’s still an introduction into the parts of a story,” he said.

Brooks had a full itinerary for the two days, including large presentations and smaller workshops for kindergarten through eighth grade. He said it was a little unusual to plan for such a wide range of ages, but he had clear goals for the students.

“I just have a really simple character that inspires me and that they can draw as well,” he said, regarding the younger grades. “I will draw a character and then have them create a story about it.”

In his presentation to kindergartners through second-graders, he drew a number of different ways to tell a story through a cartoon. He also introduced the simple character Sleepy Dog, based on his daughter’s favorite stuffed animal. The excited students took part in drawing their own story with Sleepy Dog and sharing them later with Brooks in a workshop.

For the older children, he added more options and got more expressive with where stories originate.

“I talk about all the sorts of things that inspire me,” Brooks said.

Clark previously only gave Literacy Month a single evening event as a celebration. This year, however, school librarian Annie Fagundes wanted to do something bigger. She created a month and a half of events, programs, themes and projects.

“The principal and I really wanted to gear it up and make it a bigger thing,” Fagundes said. “We wanted to get the children excited about being an author and about them writing.”

The first step along that path included inviting Brooks to come open the month.

There were also themed weeks, poetry workshops, a “Writing with the Stars” event and a book fair. Fagundes said the goal is to inspire children to find different ways to create, and teach the importance of expression.

“We want every student to write a published work by the end,” she said. “We want that memory of something impactful and important.”

Brooks captured the younger students’ attention as he explained the process of creating a story, characters and bringing them to life through illustrations. He said he merely hoped to impart some of his energy and enthusiasm to the students.

“I feel like I’m really excited about what I do, and I hope they see that,” Brooks said. “I try to make them understand that anybody can draw or write or tell a story in any way. I hope they get that. We all have our own way of telling stories.”

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