Cold winds blew outside when we arrived with author and illustrator Rebekah Raye at Princeton Elementary School, but warmth and cordiality met us inside this lovely school. Rebekah was excited by the welcome poster created in honor of her visit and raved over all the student artwork in the halls. A few eager students helped carry all of Rebekah’s things into the room, which quickly transformed into an art studio. Her characters and paintings really brought the space to life for the budding artists of Princeton. Goosey-Goose, her papier-maché goose, came along as he does to all of the schools she visits. A harbor seal pup, the newest addition to her menagerie, made an appearance as well.
The first workshop was with the grades 3-4. They sat down at tables ready with art paper, charcoal, graphite pencils, smudging cloths and erasers, to begin their own drawings after watching a demonstration by Rebekah. Her technique starts with thinking of drawing as writing, “If you can write your name, you can draw,” she says to the students. “Fine lines or bold lines, they’re all wonderful because we all have our own style.” She begins with an upside down ‘U’ then it turns into an ‘L’ then a ‘Y’ and so on until, “Oh my gosh, it’s a squirrel!” said one little girl. “She must be really good!” said another.
She told each class about negative space and to fill in the whole paper with graphite, smudge it and then to use the eraser to bring up highlights. She talked about how she came to write her book “The Very Best Bed”: “As a child I thought about the animals at night and worried about how they were sleeping,” she told them. “So when I was asked to write my own book that is what I wanted to explore.” She likes to do the paintings first and then the words come after. She also told them it took her six months to do the painting of the bear!
The artists in grades 1-2 were provided with paint sticks to add color to their drawings. One child declared of Rebekah, “She’s not just a miracle worker, she’s awesome!” Students in pre-K to grade 4 were each given a signed copy of “The Very Best Bed,” while grades 5-8 were sent home with orange sketchbooks from IRW and graphite pencils and erasers thanks to Charity Williams, their principal. All were encouraged to keep on drawing and writing.
After lunch, Rebekah acted out “The Very Best Bed” for the pre-and kindergarten students with amazing, cardboard cutouts of the book’s characters to the delight of all the students and teachers alike. One teacher was very moved and as she left the room teary eyed, said how much she loved the story and seeing Rebekah’s telling of it.
We were then treated to all the amazing projects that had been done prior to Rebekah’s visit. We saw the adorable pictures from kids in grades 1-2 of “A Tree is a Bed for an Owl” and “A Den is a Bed for a Bear.” Then it was off to see fourth grade’s own “very best beds” with pictures of the kids in a bed peeking out over quilts. Each quilt square represented an animal from the book! Kindergarteners had charted which beds were their favorites.
The middle school history class created a historical timeline of beds and two videos: one a very clever parody of “The Very Best Bed” called “The Very Best Chair,” and a reenactment of the book with the children wearing masks, costumes and fluffy tails that brought Rebekah to tears.
It was a wonderful day and after all was done, Rebekah signed the wall of fame in the library for the second time while a little girl said, “I am going to buy a bunch of your books and give them to every one I know!”