Monday, March 12, 2012

Large People Under A Strange Sky

A few days ago I shared how we went about reading and discussing Paul Own Lewis' classic book Storm Boy, perhaps my favorite book to read to young children. The story mirrors the classic plot found throughout children's literature of the protagonist leaving home, having strange, wild adventures in a strange, wild land, growing homesick, then returning home. Like Maurice Sendak's classic of the type, Where The Wild Things Are, Lewis employs the bare minimum of words (fewer than 500) and beautiful illustrations to convey a remarkably complex and satisfying story. 

We read this book every day last week, and while a few of them asked, "Again?" none really complained. In fact, to the contrary, our understanding deepens with each retelling, the children excitedly shouting out their interpretations of what Lewis means by being under a "strange sky," the meaning of the "killer whale" costumes hanging along the walls (which Jody insists are actually "pets") of the great house in which he dances and sings with the giant people he finds in this strange land, or why it is that they eat fish that are not cut up or even cooked. How could it be that the Storm Boy's adventures last only a day, but when he returns home he finds he's been gone for a year? There is so much here to investigate and discuss.

The strange sky, we figured out, is really the view from under the sea, looking up through the green water. And the whales, the children decided this year, "are the birds."

There's an art project, or rather an art tradition, that goes with reading this story. I pre-cut orca whale shapes, pre-mix "strange sky" paint-glue, and wrap pieces of cardboard in aluminum foil. We also have white chalk and glitter.

The basic idea, I suppose, is to draw white markings on the whale bodies with chalk (we have the book handy for reference), paint the foil with the paint-glue, position the whale, then finish with green and silver glitter. But of course once they get going, there is no there one to tell them that there is a right or wrong way to do it.

Typically, we only provide silver and green glitter, but the children spotted the box in which we keep all the colors. Who can say no to making glitter ocean rainbows?

Some of them attempted to recreate the imagery from the book, laying their whales down atop the glue-paint, keeping their bodies as visible as the killer whales on the pages of the the book.

Others used Lewis' illustrations as more of a jumping off point, hiding their orcas behind the waves and within the glittery murk, showing them not as they appear in the book, but rather, perhaps intuitively, perhaps from their own experience with whales, as they appear to us in nature: as glimpses and shadows.

"There's a tail! I see a fin! I think there are two of them there off the starboard side!"

Others took a more modern art approach, presenting their whales graphically, living under such strange skies and over such strange ground.

And others showed us only the strange sky as a strange sea, mysterious in that there may or may not be whales down in there. Or up above, perhaps, since we're looking up through the water and whales are birds.

There are shadows in the deep. Are they whales or something else?

And then there is just glitter. Just glitter.

And this one swims with white chalk, which was left behind, perhaps on purpose.

We made a lot of orca whale paintings as we thought about the story of the large people under the strange sky.

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1 comment:

Scott said...

Wonderful, Tom. (Even if there is glitter!)