Author/ illustrator Russ Cox visited Ella Lewis School in Steuben on April 10 with his book, “Faraway Friends.”
At Ella Lewis, students of all grade levels flooded the hallways and their classrooms with art projects inspired by the book’s outer space theme. Many students, teachers and even Principal Joanne Harriman, were dressed up in wonderful costumes as their favorite book character! We saw “Harry Potter” wizards, Max from “Where the Wild Things Are,” fairytale creatures, and many more characters.
In Pre-K and kindergarten, students made space helmets out of paper grocery sacks and decorated them in myriad creative ways. Russ read the book aloud, and the little listeners were so excited about the story. “I want to go to Jupiter!” exclaimed one student.
After story time as Russ signed copies of each book, the students each took turns adding onto a drawing on a big piece of paper for the classes to keep after the illustrator’s visit.
First-grade teacher Mrs. Worcester said, “When Russ read with his space helmet on he became part of the book” and that her students were so engaged with the story. Following a read aloud of the book, first and second graders took turns making an illustration of their own. Russ had the students fold a white piece of paper into thirds. One student started by drawing a head — any kind of head! — on the first section, and then they had to pass it along to their neighbor, who then drew a body, without seeing what had been drawn on the paper before! The kids had a blast with this exercise.
Third and fourth graders showed off some amazing projects they created before Russ’ visit. In Mrs. Finn’s class, third graders built a rocket ship out of wood scraps, and a student in fourth grade created a spaceship out of old appliance boxes and aluminum foil!
Russ did a character-drawing workshop in which he had the students think about aspects of a character they wanted to draw, and to interview the character in their minds to get to know them. He showed some of his favorite characters such as anything by Tim Burton, Shel Silverstein, Disney cartoons and his favorite, the Looney Tunes. The third and fourth graders took that inspiration and came up with some wild and hilarious illustrations.
After the fifth and sixth grade character drawing workshop, sixth graders showed off the outer space corridor they created in the hallway, complete with cut-out illustrations of main character Sheldon and his dog, Jet.
In the 7th and 8th grade sketchbook workshop, Russ explained that sketchbooks are not meant to be for perfect drawings, but for whatever comes into your mind. He showed some of his old sketchbooks that have been wet, stomped on, and worse. The older students were encouraged to “mess up” their books so that they never had to feel what goes in it must be perfect. Russ then gave them each a random object — a Band-Aid, a piece of fake money, a pipe cleaner — and were told to glue it in their sketchbook and create an illustration around it. The illustrators had a blast!
At the end of the school day, every student and teacher in the school stood for a “Hall of Fame” walk, in which Russ (and our very own Program Assistant Alison Johnson) took a walk down the main hallway to the cheers and applause of everyone.
After Russ’s visit, students in grades 3 and up filled out feedback forms to return to us about their thoughts on the day. One student used the back of his feedback form to create some wonderful illustrations!