Thursday, May 30, 2013

Yarn-Wrapped Frame

This week's art activity was created by another one of my super-talented friends, Erin Shakespear. Erin is a writer and a craft expert and one of the funny, most warm people I know. Take it away, Erin!

With a cool book like Framed being featured on Elaine's awesome blog, it seemed fitting for this week's art project to be a frame!

This is a super easy craft that lets kids put a bright and colorful spotlight on their artwork.
So, let's get to it...

Step #1: Gather up your supplies
   ~ cereal box
   ~ yarn
   ~ glue
   ~ exacto knife
   ~ ruler

Step #2: Start cutting.

This first part is a parent's job. Cut up the cereal box leaving the front and the back intact. Now decide how wide you want your frame and using your ruler, measure and mark where you need to cut. Cut the frame out with the exacto knife. I made mine 1 1/4 inches wide. 

Next cut a back for your frame the same size. And also cut a chunk out of the bottom of the back to make sliding in a picture easier. With the middle scrap piece of your frame cut a long piece of cardboard to prop the frame up.
Step #3: Pick a color

Choose your yarn and make a small ball of it. Since you'll be wrapping the frame around and around, it's much easier to deal with a small ball of yarn than a whole skein of it.
Step #4: Get gluing

Put your glue on the colorful or wrong side of your frame and begin wrapping. The solid brown side should be the front or right side of your frame just in case any of the cardboard shows through.
Step #5: Dealing with corners


The corners can be tricky. Luckily one of my sons came up with a great solution. If you trim a small triangle from each corner, it makes them easier to wrap. Also, it's best to wrap the corner on one side and then the other, alternating back and forth and filling in the gaps as you go in order to distribute the yarn evenly.

Step #6: More gluing

Once you've covered your frame in yarn, it's time to put the back on. Put a bead of glue alalong the wrong side of the back of your frame (the colorful side) and glue to your frame. Make sure you put the glue on the very edge so you leave more room for your picture. Stack some heavy books on the frame to get the front and back to stick together really well.
Step #7: Stand it up
Take the skinny piece of cardboard you cut out earlier and fold a small piece at the top of it. Now glue this piece to the back of your frame.

Step #8: Get drawing
Whip up a dandy self-portrait of yourself or another piece of lovely artwork, slip it into your frame and admire your handiwork!

Thanks, Elaine, for letting me add to your fun blog!  

Thank you, Erin! Now I'm off to the store to get yarn and start this project with my own kids! :)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce

From Goodreads: A few things to know about Dylan:

He is the only boy in his entire town—so forget about playing soccer.

His best friends are two pet chickens.

His family owns the world's only gas station/coffee house—their pies are to die for, but profits are in the hole.

Criminal instincts run in his family—his sister is a mastermind-in-training, and the tax men are after his father for questioning.

And one more small thing about nine-year-old Dylan—the crime of the century has just fallen into his lap.

With the same easy mix of wit, warmth, and wonder that made his debut novel, "Millions," an award-winning international bestseller, Frank Cottrell Boyce tells the story of a boy who reminds an entire town of the power of art.

My Two Cents: Like all of Boyce's books, Framed is heartfelt and hilarious. There's a great deal of art in this distinctly British book, but it will absolutely appeal to boys because of all the humor, hijinks, and adventure. Such a clever, distinctive, memorable book.

Grade Level: 3-7

Additional Resources:
More to Read:
  • Frank Cottrell Boyce's other books, especially Millions and Cosmic
  • Another story with great voice, mystery, and missing parents: Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
  • Another family story featuring a main character who gets into trouble and doesn't always tell the truth: Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko
  • Another book about a boy who means well but causes a lot of trouble: Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Drawing Like Dürer

I'm so excited for this week's art activity! This activity was created by a very good friend of mine, Rosalyn Eves. Rosalyn is a talented writer whom you can on the web here and here or follow on Twitter here. She's one of the smartest people I know, and she's also an artist! Without further ado, here's the great activity she created to go along with this week's book:

Albrecht Dürer, the famous artist at the heart of Elise Broach's Masterpiece (featured on Monday's post), was known for his intricate, detailed pen and ink drawings as well as his detailed wood-block prints.

Like James and Marvin, you, too can create fantastic pen and ink sketches--if you're willing to take your time and pay attention to detail.

1. First, pick your subject and assemble your supplies.
You'll need paper, a pencil (with eraser!) and a pen (I used a regular ballpoint pen). For this exercise, I used one of my son's dinosaurs. (It kind of looks like the rhinoceros shown above, doesn't it?)

2. Look carefully at your subject. Using your pencil, lightly sketch the basic shapes that you see. (If you press too hard with the pencil, it will be hard to erase later.)

3. Once you have the basic shapes in place, go back and add the details in, still using your pencil.

4. Go over your sketch with the pen. When you've finished tracing the whole thing, erase the pencil lines. (You may want to wait a minute for the ink to dry, or you'll get smudged ink lines like I did on the tail!)

5. Use tiny lines to create the shadows on your picture.

6. You can use cross-hatching (make lines first one direction, then another direction) to make the darkest shadows darker.

7. Observe your subject carefully and add any final details that you see--here, I added the lines that make up the dinosaur's hide. Frame your finished masterpiece! (Or hang it up on the fridge). You've now mastered a Dürer-esque style of drawing.

8. Anyone can use observation to create an ink drawing--this last image was done by my preschool-aged daughter.

Thank you so, so much Rosalyn! And everybody else--send me your drawings if you try this activity out! I'd love to see them and (with your permission) post them!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Masterpiece by Elise Broach

From Goodreads: Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays’ apartment. He is very much a beetle. James Pompaday lives with his family in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy. After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture and before these unlikely friends know it they are caught up in a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that could help recover a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer. But James can’t go through with the plan without Marvin’s help. And that’s where things get really complicated (and interesting!). This fast-paced mystery will have young readers on the edge of their seats as they root for boy and beetle.

My Two Cents: I loved all the characters, both beetle and human, in this E.B. White Read Aloud Award Winner. Broach always does an excellent job of weaving history through her books, and Masterpiece is no exception. There's humor, heart, and a good dose of suspense and adventure here that will keep kids turning pages in spite of the above-average word count.

Grade Level: 3-6

Additional Resources:
  • Visit Elise Broach's website and check out her discussion guide.
  • Check out the Kid Zone at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where much of Masterpiece takes place.
  • Learn more about Albrecht Dürer and see some of his artwork here.
  • Identify any bug you find (including dung beetles like Marvin) by putting its information into this cool Bug I.D. tool from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
  • Read the Georgia O'Keefe quote at the beginning of the book, then look at some of her paintings here by searching "flowers." (Make sure you scroll through all the pages.) Don't the quote and the paintings go well together?

More to Read:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Drawing Like Audubon: Learning to See

Today's guest post is from artist, author, and all-around lovely person Kate Birch. Visit her blog here and look for some of her own original artwork! Kate took a page out of this week's book, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, and gives us this great activity so we can learn to draw from Audubon's work just like Doug did. Take it away, Kate!

John James Audubon was known for his amazingly realist illustrations of birds compiled in his best-known work, The Birds of America. One of the things that made Audubon’s work so interesting is that the birds actually looked like they were drawn straight out of nature. Audubon did his best to make his birds look as life-like as possible. Because it would be impossible to draw a live bird in its natural setting, Audubon staged dead birds with wires in elaborate sets that he spent days preparing. Audubon knew that to create the most life-like bird on the page he would have to observe the most life-like bird in real life.

As artists, we have to learn to see the world differently. Many people will look at a bird, or a tree, or a plant without truly seeing it. Our brains are used to making generalizations about objects—a bird has wings and a beak, a tree has a trunk and branches—but this doesn’t mean that all birds have the same shaped wings or beaks. Artists have to learn to see each little detail in the world. Artists can’t make assumptions.

One of the best ways to really start seeing the world without letting our brains generalize is to draw upside down. Today, you’ll learn how to take one of Audubon’s birds and learn to see it a new way.


Step One: Print off your favorite of Audubon’s birds. I’ll be using part of the Blue Yellow-Backed Wood Warbler.

If you’d like to make it a little bit easier on yourself you can use this black and white version of the same illustration:

Step Two: After your picture is printed off. Set it in front of you upside down on the table. Now it will look like this when you begin to draw:

Step Three: As you draw, try to concentrate on the lines and shapes that you see. Instead of thinking about drawing the bird’s eye, or beak, or wing, simply think about the lines themselves. Are they short or long? Are they close together? Do they curve?

Step Four: After you are done, you can flip your drawing around. Did you draw the bird differently than if you had been looking at it right side up?
Thanks so much, Kate! Can't wait to try this with my kids!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Book Summary: As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who “smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain.” In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.

My Two Cents: Memorable characters, beautiful writing, amazing book. Here's the bottom line: This is probably my favorite middle grade book. Yes, #1 favorite of all time. All I have to do is see that bag-face cover and I want to laugh and cry and read the whole thing again.

Grade Level: 4-8

Additional Resources:
  • Visit Gary D. Schmidt's website.
  • View more images of Audubon's Birds of America from the National Gallery of Art.
  • One of Doug's talents is memorizing baseball trivia. Test your own baseball trivia knowledge, learn new facts, and solve baseball sudoku and crossword puzzles here.
  • Learn how to play horseshoes like Doug does.
  • Doug's brother Lucas comes back from Vietnam. Find photos, video, and facts about what Vietnam is like today at the National Geographic Kids website.
  • The novel Jane Eyre is important in this book. Read a quick summary of Jane Eyre for kids here.
  • Doug isn't a big fan of poetry in general and Shelley in particular, but he seems to like birds. Do you think he'd like this poem Shelley wrote about a bird?

More to Read:
  • A companion novel to Okay for Now: Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars (Or maybe read this one first and see how your perception of Doug changes...)
  • Another novel that features John James Audubon (this time as a character): A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole
  • Another book about a young boy in about the same era (with a very similar cover): Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Modern-Day Vermeer

In this week's book, Chasing Vermeer, Petra and Calder saved a famous painting by paying attention to details and never giving up. They also learned that there are imitation Vermeer paintings that people used to think were the real thing!

For this week's art activity, we're not going to make an imitation Vermeer, we're going to make a modern Vermeer! Here's the challenge:

Look at the catalogue of Vermeer's paintings and choose your favorite. Think about the person (or people) in the painting. Do you think they're rich or poor? Young or old? Kind or unkind? Now imagine that person alive today instead of in Vermeer's time. What would they be wearing? What would their hair look like? Most importantly, what would they be doing?

Next, figure out how you can make your modern Vermeer still look similar to the real Vermeer. Can your person wear the same colors? Be sitting or standing in the same position? How can you show that it's the same person, just in a different time?

This is the composition of your picture--what shapes and colors are on which parts of the paper--and it's the part you want to match Vermeer as much as possible.

This is a difficult job! I know because I did a similar activity in a college art class! I picked The Lacemaker and decided that if she were alive today, she'd be going to college and she'd probably be a scientist. (I wonder where I got that idea?)

It's a really good idea to use a pencil to sketch everything first, then use whatever you want--colored pencils, paints, markers--to fill in your colors. (I used colored pencils because I don't really know how to paint.)

Like Petra and Calder, remember to pay attention to all the little details. And have fun making your modern Vermeer!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

From Goodreads: A puzzling art theft is solved by two sixth-grade sleuths in a first-rate first novel by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Series of Unfortunate Events artist Brett Helquist. Cut from similar cloth to The Da Vinci Code while harkening back to E. L. Konigsburg and Agatha Christie, Balliett's book follows young Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay as they piece together separate, seemingly disconnected events to locate The Lady Writing, a Vermeer painting that gets stolen en route to Chicago's Art Institute. Going on the theory that there are no coincidences, the two wonder about the link between their teacher's statements, Petra's dreams, a book Petra finds in the library, and other clues that set the reader guessing as to their significance as well. But after they learn of the culprit's aim to correct untruths about Vermeer's life and art -- which spurs them into full-throttle detective work -- the pieces all come together in a brilliant ending sure to make readers cheer, "Ah ha!" Infused with intrigue and Helquist's clever illustrations that include coded messages, Balliett's novel is a dynamic can't-miss that will get those brain cells firing as it satiates your appetite for intelligent, modern-day mystery.

My Two Cents: I am a big fan of middle grade with "bonus features" like art, math, or science woven into the story. Chasing Vermeer is a fun, fast-paced mystery that will keep kids fascinated and teach them plenty about Vermeer (and pentominos!) in the process. Helquist's illustrations add a great deal to the book, and not just because they're infused with secret pentomino messages. A great choice for boys and girls alike.

Grade Level: 4-8

Additional Resources:

More to Read:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May: Works of Art!

It's May! I've been feeling like it's time to mix things up a little here. The theme this month will be Works of Art, and rather than science activities, I'll be posting an art activity to go with each book! I've got four great middle grade books lined up that feature art and artists (and quite a few heist situations.)

So keep checking back all month for great middle grade reads and fun art activities!

P.S. The picture on the left is a hint about one of the four books...