Wednesday, October 22, 2014

VIVA FRIDA- Yuyi Morales

I have had a lot of shifts in my "teacher brain" the last few years.

Definitely one of the biggest ones has to do with the teaching of writing.

And more specifically with regard to the role of art in the teaching of writing.

Oh, I've regularly let kids draw or create to accompany their writing. With the little ones, the drawing came before they wrote. I watched and listened as they told their stories through their drawings, sometimes to nearby friends, other times to themselves, then put their pencil to paper to write words.  I knew that the oral rehearsal done during drawing was hugely important to the actual writing of words. I told other teachers to let kids draw before they wrote.

With older kids, however, I thought differently. Oh, they did art too, but the art was dessert. They need to write first, then they could draw or create.

In the last couple of years, though, I have rethought that practice. I've let kids create visually- make a drawing or painting, create a pamphlet or poster or powerpoint, and then write. And I've discovered that the writing has gotten much better.

I really think it's because, just like their younger peers, they need the oral rehearsal.

That's why I was delighted to find Yuyi Morales' picture book, VIVA FRIDA, about Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. Aside from an extensive author's note at the end of the book, the text in this book tells very little about the artist's life. The gorgeous part computer, part photography, part painting, collage illustrations, however, tell a great deal. The reader who looks closely will learn about Kahlo's unibrow, her love for bright colors, her dog Xolot and her pet monkey Fulang-Chang, her relationship with husband Diego Rivera, and also much about her work as an artist.

I can see myself, then, using Kahlo's book as a mentor text for students writing biographies. They could do research, then choose a few of the most interesting or important facts about that person and embed them within collages or illustrations. The act of creating could serve as an oral rehearsal for the act of writing.

And unleash a whole other part of kids' brains. Which it doesn't seem like we do nearly enough of these days. 

Read a New York Times book review here.

Read a Kirkus review here. 

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