Russ Cox and “Faraway Friends”

Author/ illustrator Russ Cox kicked off our fall 2019 programs with visits to Charlotte Elementary School, Pembroke Elementary School and Trenton Elementary School in mid-October.

Charlotte Elementary School

While discussing ideas for Charlotte’s fall visit Principal Peggy White said, “Let’s do something different.” This is just the challenge we love here at Island Readers & Writers and Russ was equally excited. As Charlotte students are experienced book creators, (last year they wrote and published, “Moosehorn Secrets,” available for purchase on Amazon), we knew they could rise to the challenge when Russ suggested they take turns writing, illustrating and coloring a short story in pairs.

The day was dedicated to Russ and IRW and we were welcomed into their morning circle to start the day. The whole school walked in wearing their homemade space helmets inspired by “Faraway Friends” with their new art teacher. Once settled, younger kids were paired with older students, allowing for mentoring and they traveled through three stations together throughout the day. In the first station each pair wrote a rough draft of a story. Next, they switched places and illustrated a different team’s story. The third switch had them adding color to the illustrations of yet another team’s story. The last station was back to their original work to finish details.

At the end of the day, we shared each story and reflected on the day. Finished stories included “The Potty Monster” and “Jimbo, the Tree of Life” and “Beach City Bad Girls,” to name a few. Letting go while someone else illustrated your words proved challenging to some but this is how the world of publishing often works, as Russ reminded them. The students liked writing and the creative process, making up characters and illustrating. One teacher noted how fun it was to see how illustrators’ interpretation of the words could be so different than the writer’s intention.

Pembroke Elementary School

Q&A sessions after an author/illustrator presentation at Pembroke are always EPIC! These kids are curious. Russ shared his path to writing and illustrating children’s books, a bit about his studio (including a cat that sneezes on everything- ew!). The questions came fast and furious.

“What companies have you illustrated for?”

“How long does it take you to finish a drawing?”

“What type of tablet do you draw on?”

After answering as many questions as possible, we moved into the classrooms. Pre-K and kindergarten kids had read Russ’s book “Faraway Friends” and created little globe galaxies and gave one to Russ to take home with him. We nearly bounced out of their room on the energy they had!

Grades 5-8 participated in a sketchbook workshop in which Russ asked them to break out their new sketchbooks given by IRW. Eyes were held wide when they saw the things Russ does to break in a brand-new sketchbook. “Make it your own,” he encouraged them. They drew all kinds of silly things to get warmed up and began to fill the pages with a chili pepper with a bad attitude, a lemon snorkeling in a bathtub, and more.

Grades 1-4 had fun drawing with Russ – but not in the “normal” way. “Draw a scene above the line of your paper,” Russ instructed. “Now switch hands and draw the same thing below the line.” “What???” they replied. “Now use both hands on your pencil and draw.” Giggles and excited sketching ensued. Their favorite activity might have been when Russ scribbled a line onto their paper and told them, “Turn it into something.” The results were impressive; a hand saying, “Yum, yum, yum,” a unicorn, a dinosaur with a hat, a tiger covered with eyes.

Trenton Elementary School

It was an alien invasion as kindergartners arrived to Russ’s presentation wearing alien headbands. It’s a good thing Russ came prepared with his space helmet. It was an active and vocal group and when he asked if they knew the book, “Faraway Friends,” the response was a loud and clear, “YESSSS!!!” One youngster told Russ that she wanted to be an author or illustrator when she grows up, to which Russ replied, “Good, you can put me out of business.” “Ok,” she said.

It was another fun-filled day of drawing. This time when Russ went around scribbling on each kids’ paper there were astonished cries of, “What are you doing???” But they quickly caught on and turned those scribbles into a thumbs up, a sled, a fox-bunny creature, an alien turtle and more. Russ then let them draw a creature as a group. They each had 10 seconds to draw before handing the marker off to the next in line. The results were hilarious.

Then, Russ started a creation based on the kids’ instructions but they couldn’t look until he was done. These were their instructions:

-signature cute eyes

-dog head

-puppy ears

-bald

-witch nose

-scary teeth

-huge fat lips

-a rippy dress

-bushy eyebrows

-braces

-tattoo on the dress

-arms with spiders on them

-crown on the head

-spider earings

-old raggedy sharp clawed hands.

How’d Russ do with his creation?

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