Anne Sibley O’Brien visited three schools in early December to wrap up our fall school programs: Ella Lewis Elementary School, Tremont Consolidated School, and Beatrice Rafferty School. She greeted each school with a Korean “hello” – “Anneyeonghaseyo” (안녕하세요) – and had the kids repeat it back before delving into the idea of culture. “What is culture?” she asked them. “Where you’re from.” “Where you live.” “What a lot of people do together.” The simple definition she told them is, “how people live.”
Annie has written or illustrated over 37 books with a focus on diversity and brings a rich personal experience to share having grown up in South Korea. We worked with her books, “I’m New Here,” with younger kids at all three schools and discovered during workshops that the very youngest had lots to say about differences and inclusion. “Don’t listen to what others say unless it’s that you are beautiful and kind,” said one child. Lovely.
Ella Lewis School
Projects lined the hallways at Ella Lewis School, and Annie told the students how much it means to an author when so much thoughtful preparation is done around a book. Grades 3-5 participated in an illustration workshop, since they had read Annie’s graphic novel “The Legend of Hong Kil Dong.” She taught them how to draw dragons despite the cries of, “I can’t do that!” They could. And they did. And they did it well.
Sixth-seventh grade students created cool book trailers for “In the Shadow of the Sun,” Annie’s suspenseful novel about two kids who get stranded in North Korea, a timely story that sparked many questions from a lively and engaged bunch.
While reading her latest picture book, “Someone New,” to grades pre-K to 2, Annie pointed out that her character in “Someone New” was telling her story with pictures. “Like you did!” a child chimed in. Kids noticed lots of details about the speech bubbles. They liked comparing the two books, “I’m New Here” and “Someone New,” and were thrilled when they received their own copy of “I’m New Here” to take home.
Tremont Consolidated School
At Tremont, all workshops were held in the library where an “I’m Your Neighbor Welcoming Library” traveling book display had been for several weeks. Many companion books focusing on the immigrant experience were available for teachers to use with their classrooms ahead of our visit. Annie read her follow-up to “I’m New Here,” “Someone New,” with kids in pre-K to grade 2, using aspects of The Whole Book Approach to engage kids around the illustrations.
With the third and fourth graders, a discussion around inter-group anxiety took place using the characters from “I’m New Here” as examples. “What is Emma scared of?” Annie asked. “That they might not have anything in common,” was one response. In their workshop, kids drew two scenes: one of someone feeling nervous, followed by an action they might take to help.
Beatrice Rafferty Elementary School
Our final school visit of the year took us to Beatrice Rafferty Elementary School at Pleasant Point. Passing the new school construction site and seeing a buzz of building activity, we knew excitement would be in the air as they have been waiting a very long time for this to happen.
While working with the first and second graders, Annie asked if they’d like to say “hello” in Korean. “Bonjour!” one blurted out, which had us all laughing. In talking about community with these kids, Annie asked what they’d like to be when they grow up. “An artist.” “Work at Walmart.” “Someone who makes things for kids. And a ninja.” “An art teacher.” “A doctor.” “A police officer.” “A train driver.” “A chief.” “A veterinarian.” In the end we realized they had a whole community!
The kindergartners were our last group and Annie got them drawing faces of various feelings. We were impressed how many of them drew all nine of the emotions, although one student veered off course and drew a house that ate 72 clocks! Ah, the imagination at work. What a great way to wrap up our fall visits!