Graphic Novels: Melding Pictures with Stories

Haaken elbowed an enormous paperback book to the edge of his desk to make room for his sketch book. Bone, a graphic novel by Jeff Smith, is at least two inches thick and contains more than 1330 pages.

“It’s nine volumes packed into one giant book!” Haaken said. “I finished it and I’m halfway through reading it again.”Haaken said his own graphic novels are influenced by the style of Bone.

In describing the process of creating a graphic novel, Haaken said putting time into creating characters is key. “You put together a story line, figure out how the characters act, and their physical distinctions, and then create them,” he said. “You figure out how to make it clear and figure out the word/picture combinations. The picture does most of the work.”

One of Haaken’s characters is Loki, a very intelligent cat. He described the character as “low key”, but also known for his pranks and schemes. “Loki is Norwegian for prankster,” Haaken said.

Another character – Carl, the Scout – is essentially a square with a face. “He annoys people very easily,” Haaken laughed.

Haaken’s plot involves the ominous awakening of a beast. “A couple of friends in school have to defeat all of its evil minions that come out to attack them at night,” he said.

Lauren worked at finishing the final draft of her very first original graphic novel.

“I really only read graphic novels,” she said. “They’re easier to read – not as many words – and they’re funny! I decided to do this class because it interested me most. “

The plot of Lauren’s graphic novel is a combination of adventure and humor. “Two kids who get sucked up into space by a spaceship have to defeat an evil duckling,” she said. Luckily, the characters do end up victorious.

Lauren based her story on Captain Marvel plots. “I start generating ideas off Captain Marvel,” she said.

One thing she’s learned about writing graphic novels is “it has to make sense and it has to be in order.”

In the hallway, Emma, Olivia, and Shea worked amidst blackline sketches spread out on the floor around them.

Olivia said she used to draw comics, and thought the Graphic Novels class would help her get better. “We learn how to put stories together,” she said.

“I’m not a great artist but I’m kind of a writer,” said Emma. “It’s actually been working out okay. At first my people looked like giant blobs, but then they started to come together.”


Patterns & Impressions: Variety

Little dancers in Patterns and Impressions Variety today learned to use and identify patterns through dance.

Teacher Leah’s every movement had the elegance of smooth, practiced choreography. “I’m Miss Leah,” she said, sweeping her leg out and slowly swirling her arms. She asked each first grader to come up with a movement to use to introduce themselves to the group.

Students practiced their signature movements. Around the circle were powerful kick outs, gentle twirls, awkward shimmies, and silly gestures.

After introductions, Leah asked the children to describe what they noticed from the exercise. Lena raised her hand. “I noticed that everyone did a movement.”

“Everyone was saying their names in syllables,” offered Ananya.

Juliana hit on the theme of the class: “Some people looked like they were doing patterns,” she noticed.

Further patterns arose during movement warm ups. A foot movement pattern was 1 and 2, and 1, 2, 3. The shoulders hunched up and down – 1 and 2, and 1 and 2.

When students returned to a neutral position, Miss Leah asked how feet should be placed when standing back in place. “Feet are always parallel,” offered Abigail. She had learned about keeping feet parallel to each other from her ski lessons, she said.

Editorial comment – Every child should dance every day! It was wonderful to see our little limber students embracing the movements with no self consciousness and using their boundless energy in expressive ways!

The students caught on quite remarkably to the abstract concept of positive and negative space. Miss Leah asked them to touch their arms, legs, bellies, shoulders, while saying, “Positive space!”

If that is positive space, what is negative space? she asked. Nathan gave it a shot: “It’s up and down,” he said, “and horizontal.”

Olive added, “Right and left.”

It’s “everywhere around the body,” Miss Leah confirmed.

“Make a shape that complements your partner,” she asked the students. “Make a shape around them in the negative space, like two puzzle pieces.”

Written & Illustrated By…Future Famous Authors!

Penelope crouched over her paper, drawing intently. “It’s a thumbnail sketch,” she explained. “Illustrator means drawing pictures. We draw four different pictures for one page. We number them and then we choose which one we want for our page.”

In Written and Illustrated By, students create characters, a story, and detailed illustrations that result in a digital storybook. Penelope’s story involved a horse and pegasus, conflict, magic gold dust sprinkled by angels, and a happy ending full of lasting friendship.

“I love writing stories and I love drawing pictures. Almost everyday I draw pictures,” Penelope said. “I wrote about five stories in my school and read them to my class.”

The plot of Cooper’s “Robo versus Doctor Robot” was a far cry from flying horses and gold dust. “It’s a super hero and a bad guy robot fighting,” he said.

“Robo is a robot and he has lightening bolts on his head that shoot lightening as his super power,” Cooper continued. “He has jet boosters on his feet” that allow him to fly.

Cooper also worked on his initial sketches today. “Thumbnails is to practice the pictures and try to get them as good as you can.”

Eliana was in the middle of deciding which background to use for one of her illustrations. “I like the watercolor one because it looks more realistic.” She picked up her black paper cutout of an adorable dog and a white bathtub and placed them on the yellow and brown striped background.

Eliana chose to use multi-media forms for her illustrations. “I didn’t really want to do just color pencil, so I’m doing cutout paper, water colors, drawings,” she said.

Eliana’s story features three different dogs, all owned by the same owner at different times. “My antagonist is the only mean dog in the story,” she said.

Orange and red colored pencils rolled around Evan’s desk as he colored in an spaceship on fire. In “Eye Wars”, there is an invasion of space ships coming toward Earth. “Eye Warriors are fighting the invasion,” Evan explained. “They shot one down.” He pointed to his fiery ship. “Sometimes when they are shot down they come in like a meteor.”

The students use the software “Story Jumper” to create a digital storybook as the final version. Their text and illustrations can be uploaded onto pages. Not only can they digitally turn pages like a real book, but they can also record their voices reading the story. The stories can be shared digitally, or even purchased and printed out in book form.

Evie edited her story, “Jent’s Clue”, on the computer. “Wait, that’s supposed to say ‘fixated on’ the butterfly, not ‘saw’,” she said as she read a line about Benny. Benny, the two-year-old cat, “fixated on” a butterfly, ran into a tree, was knocked out, and taken to the veterinarian with friend, Jent. A fox on the next vet table scratched him in the eye, and later, after other adventures, Jent and Benny foil a burglary attempt at the museum, involving, of course, that mean-spirited fox.

Kaylani put finishing touches on her precious drawing of Stella the Turtle. “She finds a glass bottle that has a letter in it from a girl in California,” Kaylani said. The literate turtle and the girl become penpals, save money to visit each other, and have wonderful adventures in their respective home cities.

From Story to Stage: Making Stories Visible

“We’re choosing colors for our costumes,” Sam said, pawing through colorful fabric scraps piled on the Fabric Store table. “For our people in our plays.”

In Story to Stage, students choose favorite stories and transform them into a script and, ultimately, onto a stage. Sam’s story is from the novel, Wonder, and the two characters who will take his stage are Auggie and Summer.

Auggie, he decided, will wear a black sweatshirt and black pants. “I have to figure out what black to use for the sweater and which one for the pants,” he said, holding different swatches to his costume drawing of Auggie.

Summer, he said, “is wearing a pink shirt with peace on it. That’s what it said in the book, that she was wearing a peace shirt,” he clarified. “It didn’t say what color so I made it pink.”

Eavan copied her costume sketch onto poster-sized paper to display as part of the showcase of her work. “The fabric samples will get stapled to the side to show the costume plan,” she said.

Eavan’s story was from the book, Judy Moody, and the character she was costuming was Judy’s little brother. “His name is James, but everyone calls him Stink,” she said. Stink will be wearing a blue hoodie and black pants “because I like that color combination.”

Students begin by choosing a passage from a book that they would like to stage. “I already made the script,” Eavan said. “It’s a certain part in the book, my favorite part. Judy puts a rubber hand in the toilet. Stink thinks there’s someone in the toilet!”

Ilsa shows me her Director’s Notebook, a binder containing all of her work on the project. There are tabs for script, lighting, make up, costumes, props, staging, and even special effects and music.

Just like theater professionals, the students have to consider all aspects of production when creating their own stage. “Two girls got to be make-up models,” Ilsa said about learning stage make-up tricks. “They got make-up put on them to make them look different.”

The story that Ilsa will stage comes from the book, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and she named her script, “The End of Origami Yoda.” Her character, Origami Yoda, will not wear make-up, because he will be “super green” and look like paper, she said.

Lillian’s stage drawing is a cacophony of shapes and vibrant colors. “The book describes it as messy because it’s an art room,” she said. She pointed to a sad computer dripping spider webs in the corner of her drawing. “There’s not really a lot of computering so there are cobwebs on the computer!”

Gillian chose a book that mixes up the plots of traditional fairytales. Remember the “evil” queen from Snow White? It turns out she wasn’t really evil, she just had a traumatic experience that soured her personality. In Gillian’s script, “The Wishing Spell,” the evil queen has lost her true love and uses a wishing spell to try to free him from a mirror. Yes, that mirror.

“She tried to release the one in the mirror, but he died because he had been trapped in the mirror too long,” she recounted. “He started losing his human form and turning into the mirror.”

“Well,” she said nonchalantly, “That’s what happens when you’re stuck in a mirror too long!”

Patterns & Impressions: Language Arts

Looking at the world through a first grader’s eye reminds us of how much we miss in our environment. Students in Patterns and Impressions, Language Arts, found patterns everywhere in nature on Thursday.

“We are at Como Zoo looking at a lot of animals, like gorillas, zebras, giraffes,” Emmy explained. “Zebras take dust baths,” she said, showing me a drawing of the striped pattern she drew when observing the zebras. “We’re making observations about them,” she said. “Seeing spots, stripes…”

“…and dots!” chimed in Harper.

Pattern observations continued in the Pollinator tent, where Harper was on the look out for Fibonacci patterns. “I see one, two, three, four, and five petals on the flower,” she said, pointing to a bright yellow-ish, orange bloom. “Yes, that’s a Fibonacci!”

The Fibonacci Sequence is the series of numbers 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5…. The next number in the sequence is found by adding up the two numbers that come before it. “One plus 1 is 2, so 2 is a Fibonacci,” Harper said. “2 plus 3 equals 5, and 5 is a Fibonacci.”

Oliver peered through the mesh surrounding a garden looking for patterns among the pollinators. “I’m looking at the bees,” he said. “Yellow-black, yellow-black on the bee.”

Ceci sketched in her notebook. She recorded examples of patterns she found at the Zoo. Her sketch of a star flower showed “five Fibonacci”. She found patterns in a turtle’s shell as well. “He kind of had squares on his back.”

One sketch featured a stingray with lines around the outside of his body. “The stingray has little cuts,” Ceci pointed out. “There’s a big one and a little one, a big one and a little one, all the way around.”

Just a little reminder for all of us to open our eyes to the wonder all around, just like a first grader.

Training a Photographic Eye: Photo Academy

Sophie stopped suddenly, dropped to the ground and aimed her camera at what looked like a manhole cover in the concrete floor. It was a photo moment only a trained photographer might notice.

“I just wanted to make it look bigger than it actually is and show pattern and texture…” she explained, “…and perspective.”

She moved and put her camera to the edge of a planter, catching the tiny detail around the edge.

Photo Academy students visited Como Zoo today to capture unique images and to practice their new skills.

The industrial silver metal of the manhole cover contrasted sharply with Sophie’s next subject: an exotic blue-tongued skink held by a naturalist nearby. Sophie leaned in close, so close the skink nearly licked her lenses with his darting blue tongue.

“I angled to the side a little bit for the rule of thirds,” she said.

Wyatt hovered his camera over the top of the skink. “I’m doing an overhead shot,” he said. Trying different angles was one of the tasks of the photographers today, in addition to capturing solids, lines, patterns, and perspectives, Wyatt said.

Disregarding the exotic animals around them, Sammie tried to get a shot of what she described as “the squirrel-rat thingy.” It was actually a scavenging chipmunk, the girls all laughed.

Sammie experimented with capturing texture on the horns of the caribou dozing in the sun. “I did a close up to show the texture and how it’s soft,” she said.

Another technique – macrophotography – inspired the students to take super close up shots. “We’re going to do a thing in class tomorrow where you put your camera really close to something and the class will have to figure out what it is,” Sammie explained.

Izzy got a head start on the macro lesson. She attempted a photo of the tiger that she hoped would fill up the entire screen. “It didn’t turn out how I wanted,” she said. “I could have zoomed in more.”

She used her new knowledge at the polar bear exhibit. She shoved her camera near my face to reveal a close up shot of a polar bear paw with long, curled claws. “Guess what this is!” she laughed.

SA Photographer Erinn offered some tips to the girls who were trying to take photos of animals behind double wire fences. “I put (the camera) right against the wire and zoomed in through it,” Hailey said. She moved her camera sideways to shoot through the opening in the second fence and ended up with a nice photo of a mountain goat with no distracting fence lines.

Sam was challenged to shoot not only through a wire fence, but also through a thick window at the polar bear enclosure. She was careful to stand back from the finger-smudged glass. “If you push the camera up against the glass it’ll pick up dirt or glare,” she said.

In the Pollinator tent, Emily and Teagan focused on shooting patterns. “I took pictures of leaves and how they pattern with each other all on the same plant, but going different ways,” Emily said.

Teagan experimented with different perspectives. “It looks better when you’re not always just looking at it standing up,” she said. “You can look at it from above or from the ground.”

It’s Greek to Me: And you thought your family was chaotic

Noe introduced us to the very complicated family tree of the Greek Gods created by the students in It’s Greek to Me. “Chaos is at the top,” Noe said. She pointed to a drawing of a god holding a bunch of grapes and a wine glass. “I made Dionysus, the God of Wine, and Pan, the God of Nature. Pan is normally overlooked by humans because he’s a minor god,” she said.

Leo and Jordan knew a lot about Chaos and why he headed the family tree. “We made a pennant on Chaos,” said Jordan. “He controls the chaotic forces of the universe.”

“Chaos created the universe,” said Leo. “He’s really powerful.”

“He was the origin of everything, the first god,” Jordan added. It seems the Greeks were responsible for a lot of “firsts.”

Today students created fresco art hangings. “On Crete with the Minoans – the first Greek civilization – there were many different forms of art, and fresco was one of the them,” said Noe. Fresco is a painting done rapidly in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries.

Logan explained the process. “We pick out our mold, pour the plaster in, and poke a string into the wet plaster,” he said.

Logan gently pounded his mold on the table top to remove air bubbles in the plaster while it dried. He and his tablemates filled a plastic frisbee with blobs of paint in preparation. Logan planned to paint an abstract design that represented the symbol of Hades. Hades, he said, is the God of the Underworld, God of the Dead.

Noe planned to paint her fresco with a spider symbolizing Arachne. “Arachne shamed the gods so Athena turned her into a spider. The very first spider!”

Joanna decided to go beyond Greek mythology in her projects. Her fresco would feature an eye. “The eye of Horus in Egyptian mythology is a very popular protection symbol,” she said. A bit of Norse mythology might be thrown in as well, with images that represent the saying an eye for an eye, talons for hooks.

Kachi painted blue shapes onto his soft plaster. The picture was not related to mythology, he said, “just whatever I want.”

Joryn also went with a more personal image. “I’m doing a softball theme, but first I’m making little sprinkles of color.” She held her paint brush horizontally and tapped on it to splatter paint drops onto the fresco.

“Fresco was very popular,” with the Greeks, Elise said. “Artists wanted to go bigger for decorations. They painted on the walls to show off to their friends, ‘Look at my new frescoes!'” she teased.

Big Words, Small Sculptures: Art Cycle

Liam picked up his colorful art piece, turned it upside down and shook it gently. “Oh, Liam is doing the shake test,” teacher Gabrielle Engler pointed out to the other students.

“It’s where you put it upside down and shake it to see if any parts fall off,” Liam explained. “If nothing falls off it shows you it’s secure.”

Liam said his sculpture was “a playground, but not a playground.” That makes sense if you understand the art terms students learned that day: abstract and non-representational.

Abstract is usually made up of a bunch of different things,” Lucas explained. “It’s not representative of anything. You can add random shapes to create a picture that could be based off something, or absolutely nothing!” Lucas chose to create a representational sculpture, however, depicting a penguin village with a petrel’s nest (a large sea bird that harasses penguins and eats their eggs).

Art Cycle students created their abstract sculptures from cardboard egg cartons. As with other projects in Art Cycle, the materials were recycled. “We painted and then cut up egg cartoons and now we’re gluing them to make sculptures,” said Giatta.

Audrey splattered glue over the top of her sculpture. “I’m dipping the brush in glue and rolling it in my hand to make ice,” she explained. Her structure was non-representational, but, “it reminds me of mountains, with crystals.”

As the class transitioned to a new project, teacher Gabrielle pulled the students to a table to demonstrate how to create fairy or gnome houses. The base of the fairy/gnome gardens used recycled pint milk cartons glued to paper plates and spray painted silver. She stressed the concept of “craftmanship” with the students. “We go above and beyond,” she reminded them.

Violet started her fairy garden by attaching an arched door shape to the outside of the milk carton “house”. “This is just the shadow of the door opening,” she explained as she glued the black silhouette. The actual door will swing outward. Violet’s occupant is a “good fairy” who is artistic and likes gardening.

Ellie’s fairy is also a girl “and she probably has a pet turtle,” she said. “She could ride her turtle if she wants.”

“But she won’t be getting places very fast!” Violet laughed.

Sabela arranged colorful paper around on her work surface. “Basically, what I plan to do is a sunset theme with pinks and purples and other colors,” she said. “I really think gnomes would like those colors. They would be scared of dark colors.”

Sabela herself prefers the pastels. “Gnomes like lighter colors, and fairies like dark,” she said. “I’m more into warm, light colors than dark.”

Elizabeth described gnomes as “tiny little things with pointy hats and big noses. They’re good, but they’re scaredy cats. And, they speak in an accent,” she said.