Looking Up with Annette LeBlanc Cate

Bird watching was the name of the game in Pembroke and Edmunds last week when Island Readers and Writers brought author/illustrator Annette LeBlanc Cate and her book, Look Up! Bird-watching in Your Own Backyard, to the region. First up, IRW and Annette visited students in Grades PreK – 6 at Pembroke Elementary School. Annette gave a presentation to the whole school on her journey as an artist and her career, all illustrated via sketches on a large sketchpad, created specifically for this visit. Annette’s latest publication is a bird-watching guide for children.

Bird watching might not be what you think it is – as one young man in the 5th/6th grade group shared with Annette: “Before I read your book, I thought that bird watching was just boring. But since I’ve read your book, I’ve found that bird watching is actually really cool.”

The 5th and 6th graders each researched a Maine bird and shared their work with Annette who engaged them in conversation, drawing out their knowledge and pointing out new fun facts.

Observation skills became very important when the first and second graders created a list of their “neighborhood birds.” And, due to rainy weather that kept us all inside, drawing on their memories was critical!

That evening, the school hosted (for the second year in a row) a Literacy Night for students and parents, and IRW brought Annette along!

Parents and kids were on the bleachers as we gave a brief overview of IRW and highlighted some of the recent activities at Pembroke, including the great day we’d just had with Annette.
We also reiterated what parents can do with their kids before and after an author visit – and the fact that we LOVE to have parent volunteers! We displayed books for parents to look at while numerous other activities were in full swing: bookmark making, a raffle, and stamping projects.
The clouds gave us a break from the rain during our next day at Edmunds Consolidated School. We started off with a full-school assembly again, then journeyed outside for a looking and listening walk with students in Grades PreK – 2. They heard chickadees (and spotted one, too!), and also watched two bald eagles circling overhead. In response to Annette’s directions to be very quiet (so as not so spook the birds away), some students walked on their tiptoes and spoke in whispers. Most students had story after story to tell of all the birds they’d recently seen, in their neighborhoods and around the playground.
The next group of students were in third and fourth grade. We ventured outside, and Annette impressed them with her impeccable seagull call. They proudly proclaimed, “You’re one of us now!” to her, and practiced their own bird calls as well. Once we came back into the school library, Annette showed them sketches of birds she’d seen in the last couple days since she’d been in Maine.
They drew seagulls all over a large sheet of paper and gave it to Annette, and were very happy to take group shots when they all practiced their calls one last time together.
The last group comprised fifth and sixth grade students who participated in a sketchbook workshop with Annette. She started out by showing them a stack of her sketchbooks from over the years. She pointed to a stick she’d sketched years before and said, “I remember that stick, because I paid such close attention to it while I was drawing it.”
In addition to Annette’s book Look Up!, each fifth and sixth grade student received a fresh sketchbook to fill with their own creations.
Once outside, it was nearly impossible to keep the inspiration from overtaking us all! Students drew trees, lichen on stumps, the school bus, and each other! Annette guided them in looking at the subject when sketching, not sketching from conceptual knowledge of the subject (Should you just draw an oval for the face? Is the subject’s face actually an oval shape?)
We discovered, we tried new things, we asked questions, and everybody learned something (IRW team included!), especially “look up!” and “Don’t forget to listen!”

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