As we were making Matisse-inspired collages the other day as part of our family summer art project, one of my children was working solely with black and white paper.  It seemed like the perfect time to bring out two picture books that I had been saving for bedtime reading.

ben's trumpetBen’s Trumpet, a Caldecott honor book (1979) by Rachel Isadora, is the story of a young boy who is excited by the jazz music he hears in his neighborhood and longs to play the trumpet himself.  He practices outside the corner jazz club with an imaginary trumpet, until the laughter and jeers of some of the other kids send him sadly home.  Just when he’s given up on his dream, the horn player from the club invites him inside to give the trumpet a try.

ben's trumpet zig zag ben's trumpet zig zag club


Although all of the artwork in this book is done in black and white, the illustrations are bold and expressive, and easily convey the energy of the music.  As we read it, we noticed the jagged lines on the end papers, then smiled when we saw the sign on the first page for the Zig Zag Jazz Club. (Click the page of Ben on the fire escape for an enlarged view of the jazz club sign.)

ben's trumpet art deco 1We talked about the geometric Art Deco elements in the illustrations, and I explained how popular that was in the 1920s as a style of architecture, interior decoration, jewelery design, etc.  We compared the use of the angular shapes in this book to the shapes used by Henri Matisse in his collages.  (I wish I’d also had my copy of Snow White in New York by Fiona French, with its glamorous Art Deco illustrations depicting NYC in the 1930s, with me to show them!)

bring on that beatThen we read Bring on That Beat, also by Rachel Isadora but published twenty-three years later!  This book takes a similar concept — children in a 1930s Harlem neighborhood enjoying the jazz music played by local musicians — but here the artist embellishes the black and white street scenes with splashes and pops of wild, vivid color, and tells the story in rhyming couplets rather than straight prose.

wake up that street 1 wake up that street 2

When I use these two books in my library lessons (either in January when our 5th graders study the Harlem Renaissance, or in February during our Black History Month celebration) I follow them up by giving students a page with one of five different  black-and-white silhouettes of a jazz musician on it, and some crayons or markers.   Each student writes his/her own original rhyming couplet on the paper, and then adds colorful flourishes while we listen to jazz music from the 30s.

At home, we were already listening to jazz as we collaged, and one of the kids decided on a last-minute addition of a little jazz color to his picture.  I love it!

Midnight Jazz

Midnight Jazz


When we get ready to do painted-paper collages a la Henri Matisse, we will also look at some other books by Rachel Isadora that show her delightful take on that style of artwork.

there was a tree    princess and the pea    fisherman and his wife







Books used today:

ben's trumpet
Ben’s Trumpet
by Rachel Isadora





bring on that beat
Bring on that Beat
also by Rachel Isadora





Also mentioned:


snow white in new york
Snow White in New York
by Fiona Finch








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Filed Under (Art) by on June 13, 2014 and tagged , ,
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We’ve pretty much been through all of the books on Matisse that I have at home right now, so as part of our summer art project we took a road trip!

matisse from a to zI needed to go to Michaels to pick up a few supplies, and while we were there one of the kids asked for a sketchbook.  Yay!!

We also visited the closest branch of the public library and found a copy of Matisse from A to Z by Marie Sellier to bring home.  The book is mostly filled with Matisse’s paintings, with just a few of his cut-paper collages sprinkled in.  The art we saw in this book inspired us to visit a paint store and find paint chips to match the palettes Matisse used in some of our favorite works.  We then played around with arranging the chips into geometric patterns.  Here’s what that looked like:


Icarus by Matisse in the book Matisse from A to Z.
Click to enlarge.


From the book Matisse A to Z.  Click to enlarge.

From the book Matisse A to Z.
Click to enlarge.


And here are a couple of pairings.

Open Window, Collioure by Matisse, and an untitled collage inspired by the colors he used; and Goldfish by Matisse, and an untitled collage inspired by the colors he used.  Click to enlarge.

Open Window      Paint Chip Collage 1


Goldfish      Paint Chip Collage G




























We invited my mom to come over after lunch to listen to jazz and make collages with us.  The kids brought her up to date on what we’ve been doing and showed her the art we’d already created.  Here’s a peek at what we worked on:

work in progress

The Sea is Calling You and Me (a work in progress)


The Garden

The Garden


Midnight Jazz

Midnight Jazz

More on the partial inspiration for Midnight Jazz here!



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Filed Under (Art) by on June 12, 2014 and tagged , ,
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p. 32 of My Very First Art Book.
Click to enlarge.

On Day 4 of our family summer art project we examined another cut-paper collage by Henri Matisse in Usborne’s My Very First Art Book.  In The Parakeet and the Mermaid we were delighted to recognize one of the same shapes we saw in Les Codomas yesterday, being used multiple times here.  There was a bit of an “I Spy” quality to this collage that we liked, although we agreed it was very easy to spot the parakeet and the mermaid!  This book offers the same large, colorful art examples as the other Usborne art books we’ve used, with simple corresponding projects that kids can create.  The suggested activity with this print is to fold paper in half or in quarters to cut out symmetrical shapes.


p. 39 of My Very First Art Book. Click to enlarge.

p. 39 of My Very First Art Book. Click to enlarge.

There’s also a section in this book on creating torn paper pictures that re-kindled our earlier discussion of collage vs. mosaic art.  The example of puzzle art also looked like something that would be fun to try.

In the “Blocks and Shapes” section of this book we examined the use of shapes, pattern, and spacing to create different effects on paper.  We’ve noticed that Matisse sometimes leaves a lot of white space in the backgrounds of his cut-paper collages, but other times he fills the entire page with color.  The facing print to the first page of this section was High Sky 2 by Bridget Riley.  While this is a painting and not a collage, it still intrigued us as a way to arrange color on a page and inspired the pieces at the bottom of this post.


p. 36 from My Very First Art Book. High Sky 2 by Bridget Riley.  Click to enlarge.

Triangle 4

Triangle 4 (a work in progress)

stained glass

Stained Glass (a work in progress)


Book used today:

my-very-first-art-bookMy Very First Art Book by Rosie Dickins






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Filed Under (Art) by on June 11, 2014 and tagged , ,
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For Day 3 of our family summer art study, we are still focusing on the art of Henri Matisse.


TheCircus2p. 20-21 from Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art Click to enlarge.

p. 20-21 from Activities and Adventures  in Abstract Art.  Click to enlarge.

Today we used the book What’s the Big Idea?: Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art by Joyce Raimondo to examine another of Matisse’s cut-paper collages, Les Codomas.  The books in this series (Art Explorers) include great discussion questions that encourage the reader to closely examine the works shown and think about the choices the artist made.  There are no right or wrong answers to these questions; it’s the pondering that’s important.  We decided that the yellow “squiggles” are acrobats performing on the blue and white trapezes, the black squares are the safety net below them, and the shapes in the border represent circus clowns.  Of course, your interpretation may differ!  This is another collage from Matisse’s book Jazz.

p. 23 of Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art. Click to enlarge.

p. 23 of Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art.
Click to enlarge.

The next two pages in the book offer step-by-step instructions for creating cut-outs like Matisse (including a list of supplies needed), explains positive and negative space, and shows examples of collages created by kids.  The book uses color-blocking and labels to divide its pages into sections so that the large amount of information presented doesn’t overwhelm the reader.  This is the format used for each type of art in every book in the series; it’s just a happy coincidence that it echoes the elements of a Matisse collage!



We then watched a brief video clip on the Elements and Principles of Design that shows an artist laying out a collage and discussing organic shapes vs. geometric shapes.  He shows us Matisse’s Les Betes de la Mer, also from the book Jazz, and draws our attention to the way the artist used these shapes in its creation.


Here are some of the pieces we’ve created using what we’ve learned so far.  (And yes, we did listen to jazz while we worked.  We even discovered a new favorite, Topsy by Count Basie!)


collage in progress

A work in progress.





Capri Sea

The Sea at Capri


Book used today:

what's the big idea abstract art What’s the Big Idea?: Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art by Joyce Raimondo



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Filed Under (Art, Curriculum Support) by on June 10, 2014 and tagged , ,
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I wanted the first project in our family summer art study to involve creating our own paper collages, so after learning a little about modern art in general and Henri Matisse in particular, we examined some additional resources to help us get started.

lives of the artistsIn Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, we read a brief biography of Matisse and learned that he embraced his label as King of the Wild Beasts and never let the critics deter him from creating the type of art he loved.  We were also intrigued to discover that he had created a book of  collages titled Jazz that included works in colors so bright that to look at them on the walls of his studio Matisse had to wear sunglasses to look at them!

p. 88 from The Great Big Art Activity Book Click to enlarge

p. 88 from The Great Big Art Activity Book
Click to enlarge

We then turned to The Great Big Art Activity Book by Sue Nicholson and Deri Robins to take another look at Matisse’s The Snail, which we examined yesterday, and to get some tips for creating abstract art and collage art. I really like the oversize format and clear examples in this book, as well as the simple instructions with step-by-step photographs for each project. Readers are encouraged to use the suggestions to make unique artwork, rather than simply copying the samples in the book. It’s well-organized with table of contents, index, and glossary; and includes over one hundred techniques to try!

p. 230 from The Great Big Art Activity Book
Click to enlarge.

Interesting note: One of my children was surprised to learn that a collage could depict a realistic scene, as shown in these examples. All of his previous experiences with collage had involved arranging random shapes in abstract designs, so this was a new concept for him.  It led to a great discussion of the difference between collage and mosaic, and later that evening as we were cracking eggs for omelets we decided that broken up eggshells might be an interesting medium for creating a mosaic.


The Sorrows of the King (1952)

Next we looked at another of Matisse’s cut-paper collages, The Sorrows of the King, in The Usborne Art Treasury by Rosie Dickins.   The cheerful colors and patterns used here create the effect of music and dancing, meant to distract the king from his sorrows.  Was the King of the Beasts giving us a glimpse into his own life here?  We know that he only took up “drawing with scissors” near the end of his life, after he became too frail to paint anymore.  It seems likely that his new experiments with shape and color kept his spirits up while allowing him to continue making art in spite his illness.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury. Click to enlarge.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury.
Click to enlarge.

p. 42-43 from The Usborne Art Treasury. Click to enlarge.

The accompanying activity in the book shows the reader how to make a collage of musical instruments that celebrates Matisse’s style.  We surmised that the author chose this subject because of Matisse’s connection with jazz, and agreed that when we started creating our own artwork we would have some upbeat jazz music playing in the background as additional inspiration.


Finally, we watched a brief video clip of Matisse working on a collage.

We wondered what type of paper he was using; it looks so fluid, yet we know that he was cutting out paper that had been painted with bright colors, which we would have thought would be much stiffer than this appears to be.  We plan to experiment with several different types of paper to discover which we like best.

In just two days we’ve learned a lot about color, shape, and composition.  We’ve also made a new friend in the art world — Henri Matisse!


Books Used on Day 2

lives of the artistsLives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought)
by Kathleen Krull

great big art activity bookThe Great Big Art Activity Book
by Sue Nicholson and Deri Robins

usborne art treasuryThe Usborne Art Treasury
by Rosie Dickins




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Filed Under (Art) by on June 9, 2014 and tagged , ,
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snail trailI thought it would be less intimidating in terms of creating our own works to begin this summer’s family art study with modern art.  My immediate book choice to introduce the project was Snail Trail: in search of a modern masterpiece by Jo Saxton.  An art-loving snail with a colorful collage shell invites the reader to follow him in search of a special painting.  We pass several examples of modern art by Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and others before reaching Henri Matisse’s L’escargot (The Snail).  The book ends with a photo of Matisse in his studio and explains that toward the end of his life he turned to cut- and torn-paper art collages, a technique which Matisse called “drawing with scissors.”  The last page credits the other works shown in the book.  snail trail page

This is a nice open-ended way to expose kids to a variety of modern art styles.  We could discuss the works before looking up the title, artist, and date in the back of the book.  We also enjoyed the way the snail’s silvery trail changed to reflect the type of art shown on each page; a sharp jagged line for the geometric squares of 1940-42 (two forms) by Ben Nicholson, but wavy and fluid next to Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory with its melting clocks.

Looking At Modern Art

p. 8 from The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art
Click to enlarge.

Then we read a few selected pages from The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art: Internet Linked by Rosie Dickinson.  The book begins by asking the question “What is modern art?” and gives a working definition complete with examples.  The next section, titled “Looking at Modern Art” discusses Matisse’s The Snail (created in 1953) along with some other examples, and encourages the reader who is trying to understand modern art to think about how and when a piece of art was made as well as what it looks like.  Helpful tip:  “Vague titles often mean the artist wasn’t trying to show a particular scene, but to explore his or her ideas about art or life.”

p. 19 from The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art Click to enlarge.

p. 19 from The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art
Click to enlarge.

Next we flipped to page 18 to see a portrait of Matisse painted by his friend Andre’ Derain in 1905, and learned that the style of art Matisse and his associates were creating at this time was so shocking and outrageous, the men were dubbed Fauves, meaning “Wild Beasts,” by critics.  Page 19 shows Open Window, Collioure painted by Matisse in 1905, and explains some of its elements, such as why the walls on either side of the window are different colors, and the artist’s use of space.  I fell in love with the color palette used here; if you want to learn more about the painting (as I did) take a look at this National Gallery of Art page.

We marveled at the nearly 50-year gap between The Snail and Open Window, Collioure  and agreed that Matisse’s delight in vivid colors hadn’t changed in all that time.

By this point we were starting to feel as though Matisse were an old friend, and we were looking forward to learning more about him and his art, and creating something inspired by his love affair with shape and color!

Books used on Day 1

snail trail Snail Trail: in search of a modern masterpiece by Jo Saxton
usborne introduction to modern art The Usborne Introduction to Modern Art: Internet Linked by Rosie Dickinson



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HeadHandsHeartNow that the school year is officially over, I’m embarking on a summer learning project with my own two children that I’m really excited about.  I call it Head, Hands, Heart: Getting Smart About Art, and it involves a little bit of art history, a little bit of theory and technique, and a whole lot of making art together.  I do not have a degree in art, and I don’t consider myself particularly artistic (I’m much more likely to create on the computer than with my hands) so this is an opportunity for me to embrace the “be a life-long learner” attitude that we teachers strive to instill in our students!

I am putting together all the resources and activities myself from scratch, and this is the most excited I’ve been about developing a unit since the Genius Hour project I created back in March.  I’ll admit that I have a tendency to get far too caught up in researching new ideas — must be the librarian in me! — but it has been a real joy to steep myself in the lives and works of groundbreaking artists.  It’s also giving me an opportunity to explore some new technology resources, which I always enjoy, and find new ways to use old favorites like Blendspace, VoiceThread and ThingLink.

BookShelfFor the next several weeks my blog posts here will be primarily devoted to what we’re discovering and creating.  I’ll be sharing photos of our artistic process and completed works, as well as links to my online and printed resources.  My first approach to any project is to look for a book on the topic in question, and this art study is no exception!  Here’s what our art bookshelf looks like right now, with more books to come.  Many of these books are from my school library, so I’ll really get to know my art collection well this summer and be ready to fill in some gaps next year.





I found a big desk (the top measures 4 feet by 2 1/2 feet) at our local Goodwill for only $20 and stocked it with basic art supplies that we had around the house.  As you can see, the desktop extends beyond the back wall to form an overhanging counter, which means we can pull extra chairs up to it so that all three of us can work there together and leave our projects spread out for as long as needed.

I’ve also just created an account with Amazon Affiliates, which means that if you see a useful resource here and purchase it on Amazon via a link from this site, I will receive a small commission (4% of your purchase) in the form of an credit.  If you’re purchasing books for a library, you probably buy from a vendor that provides library bindings, just as I do; but if you’re shopping for yourself, Amazon offers some very attractive discounts as well as reader and editorial reviews, and (usually) a chance to look inside the book and see for yourself whether it will meet your needs.

I hope you enjoy following our journey across the world of art, and I hope our discoveries will inspire you to create some art yourself.  If so, please share it in the comments!


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Filed Under (GENIUS HOUR) by on April 17, 2014 and tagged

I’ve been hearing a lot about a project-based learning model known as Genius Hour (or 20 Time or Passion Projects), and I really wanted to give it a try at my school this year, but I wasn’t sure how to best go about it.  Last month I finally took the plunge with a class whose teacher was willing to give the idea a try.

The stars just seemed to align with the following events happening within a two-week span:

  • GeniusCon Session presented at TLCafe by Matthew Winner (aka The Busy Librarian) and Sherry Gick (aka The Library Fanatic) sharing how they provided time for their students to ponder the question “If you could change one thing about your school, what would you do?
  • Doodle 4 Google Contest  – this year’s creative prompt was “If I could invent one thing to make the world a better place…”
  • A discussion with a third grade teacher who does a unit on Inventions with her students every year

I was inspired to plan a 4-week project that would get kids thinking about making a difference in the world, and would lead into their upcoming class project on designing and “building” a musical instrument.

Students began the project by brainstorming in groups.

Week 1 involved introducing the Doodle 4 Google contest, hearing from several Google artists via video about the sources of their inspiration, and engaging in some collaborative brainstorming.  Kids discussed what inspires them (music, nature, books, etc) and we made a rule that no one would say anything negative about someone else’s idea.  Students wrote their answer to the writing prompt “The world would be better if…” and then we passed the papers around for five minutes to give everyone time to add a response to the ideas on the papers at his/her table.  (Click here to see my presentation and notes.)

We used a book pass so students could examine and make notes on real inventions that changed the world.Week 2 involved a pep talk from Kid President, a look at some real inventions at the Inventive Kids website which were created and marketed by kids, and a Book Pass using books about inventors and inventions.  Several students ended up checking out  books to take with them, and many were surprised to learn that kids have successfully created and marketed real inventions!  Making a real-world connection was very motivating!  (Click here to see my presentation and notes.)

Students drew and wrote about their inventions.Week 3 was “get down to business” time!  We heard from Kid President again as he embarked on his own journey to create an invention that would make the world a better place for his cat, and we discussed the idea that sometimes an idea won’t work, and you have to try something different.  Then students finalized the details of their inventions and completed any necessary research.  Finally, everyone drew a picture and/or diagram of the invention, and wrote a paragraph explaining what it is and what it does.

Finished DoodleWeek 4 was done in collaboration with our school’s art teacher as she helped them transform their invention ideas into Google Doodles.  She guided the students to think about ways to turn the letters in the word GOOGLE into invention components and how they could convey the idea of their inventions visually.  There was a definite buzz of excitement in the room as the students traded ideas and drew their Doodles, and at the end of it all they were really proud of what they had created.

In designing the project, I tried to focus on the key ideas that with Genius Hour projects there is no one right answer, and that working together and encouraging one another allows everyone to achieve better results.  Since we met in the library, we were able to spread out and have noisy tables and quiet tables, group areas and independent work areas, research areas and drawing areas, etc.  This busy, noisy, creative atmosphere was a change for the students from the “eyes on your own paper, write the correct answers to these questions, turn in your work so I can grade it” atmosphere that is so often required at school!

Throughout the sessions, I tried to keep in mind these words from Matthew Winner:

“Guide your students, but allow them to try new ideas that may lead to both successes and failures. Your students will be challenged (as will you), but will walk away with a sense of pride and ownership in all they accomplished.”

Student ResearchingIn reflecting on the time I spent with the students, I feel like it was perhaps a little more structured than is usual in Genius Hour learning.  However, I think the specific goals kept the students focused on their thinking and learning as they adjusted to the idea of greater freedom in how they approached the project.  The group activities reinforced my message of collaboration, imagination, inspiration, and creation, and I believe they were necessary for students to be able to work productively outside the box.

We actually could have used one more session for students to really polish up their ideas, but we lost some school days due to bad weather and we were up against the Google contest deadline so we had to finish up more quickly than I would have liked.  In the future I will budget more time than I think we will actually need, which I find is helpful with most projects!

Have you done a Genius Hour project with your students?  Please leave a comment — I’d love to hear about it!


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1-QR Codes 2

QR Code sticker with link to an online lesson plan added to the book The Journey That Saved Curious George.

I’ve heard a lot of buzz over the past year or two about using QR codes in various ways with students:  linking to library scavenger hunts, online book request forms, book trailer videos, etc.  What I haven’t heard much about is using QR codes with teachers.

Our 5th grade teachers are covering World War II in social studies right now, and I offered to pull some additional fiction and nonfiction books for them to use in their classrooms.  As I was mulling over follow up activities that I could recommend for some of the books, it occurred to me that I could give teachers a “twofer” by including a QR code with a link to an online resource for each book.




1-QR Code Template

Click the photo to enlarge, and scan the QR Code with your smart device.

While exploring the best way to create the QR code stickers, I discovered that Avery allows you use an online template to create and print labels; you just type in the product code for the type of labels you’re using.  What’s really nice about using their service is that in addition to adding text and graphics to a label, the software will generate QR codes for you!  I’ve tried (and liked) a few different QR code sites, but I couldn’t beat the ease of copying-and-pasting a URL and having the QR code pop right up on the label.  You can save your projects at the Avery website, or download them to your computer.


1-QR Code and Guide

QR Code attached to the bottom of the inside of the back cover with a link to an online Teacher’s Guide to the book. A printed copy of a lesson plan was also slipped into the jacket flap.

I hope the teachers will enjoy the convenience of holding a book in one hand and a smart device in the other and previewing lesson plans, discussion guides, author information, YouTube videos, and related websites, no matter where they are.

How are you using QR Codes with your teachers?  Please share in the comments!


p.s.  If you’re interested, you can find the books I’ve QR Coded so far on my WWII ThingLink Channel.


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Filed Under (Curriculum Support) by on March 24, 2014 and tagged

I posted earlier on this blog about using ThingLink to curate resources for the poetry books in my library.

WWII ThingLink







Over the weekend I added a new “Channel” to my ThingLink account for World War II books from my library.  Our 5th grade teachers are covering WWII in social studies, and I wanted to share links to lesson plans and discussion guides.  All the images are set to Public so you can view and use the resources I’ve collected for each book.  I’ve enabled the editing rights as well, so if you have a good resource for any of these books please share your links!



Here’s an example of a ThingLink-ed image.  I uploaded a photo of the book cover, then added the links you see on the right of the picture when you hover over it with your mouse.  Just click the link to access the resource.



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