Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Illustrating a Point - Weston

Do you remember your second grade teacher's name? I do. Her name was Mrs. Whitcomb. I remember little else from my days in her classroom in Somers, New York, but I think she wore her hair in a bun (possibly cool in the early 70s?) and wore skirts. My mom can probably dig up the class photo if I ask her to, but I won't.  

In any case, I wonder now if I could find Mrs. Whitcomb and tell her how absolutely marvelous she was. Or must have been. Mostly because she did not lose her mind and lock us all in the closet for untold hours (surely I would remember if she had? Hmmm). Because I would. Lock us up, that is. Second graders are, simply put, honeybees from hell. They never ever stop moving.

I know this because today I went to the kids' school to watch a presentation by a children's book illustrator named Giles Laroche. I must tell you that I am a frustrated artist--I so wish I had some remote talent like warbling like a nightingale, or playing an instrument, or being able to draw a dog that does not in fact look like a cockroach on meth.  It's just not something I can do. Writing is my only marginal artistic talent. Some days I can write well, other days I write things about bugs on drugs but I digress.

Mr. Laroche, it turns out, has visited and spoken to the second graders in Weston for 27 years. 27 years!! And he rolled in a cart full of framed original artwork and told stories about the books he illustrates, and answered questions about Venice and how much paper he buys in a year and all kinds of other important stuff. He showed how he creates his art, which starts as drawings, then moves to cutouts and painting and he builds up these amazing landscapes and animals out of bits of paper. You can see more at his website.

When I saw him this morning (oh all right, struck with writer envy I stalked him into the library and brought him coffee and helped him move tables--a true children's book groupie, that's me), he was about to start presenting to three of the nine elementary school classes at Weston--about 50 kids in all. All the kids were lined up and led into the library by their teachers, quickly parked into rows in front of the presentation area, and then the presentation started.

During the 45 minutes of the presentation, not one of the teachers lost sight of her 18 lambs. An overly excited kid moving to his knees was dealt with by pulling a sleeve. A snuffly kid was presented with a kleenex. Not once did a teacher check her facebook, her email or her nails. Not once did they make a side comment to the other teachers. 

The first point of my blog today is to tell you that we should all call up our old second grade teachers and thank them. Because as thirty minutes of presentation had passed, the second grader fidget started on one side of the room and passed back again. Like a wave during a professional sports game. One kid rubs his hair with his jacket, turns the jacket inside out and wears it over his eyes (that kid was one of mine). One kid ties and unties his shoelaces. Another one turns his back to the speaker and begins a conversation with the bookshelf. At one point, I could swear I saw every single kid in motion--wiggling fingers, shaking hair, sticking a finger in an ear. It's enough to make you dizzy.

The second point is more of a question. Why would anyone want to be a second grade teacher? Okay, I admit it must have its fun moments--fart jokes and new achievements, reading taking off and the kids probably still need a hug every once in a while. Still, how in the world do you match that energy every day? Times 18? I don't get it but I am in awe of it.

The third point is that illustrator/author talks are cool. More please.


  1. I remember my second grade teacher, her name was Sister Stephena. Yes, I spent the first part of my elementary school life in parochial school. She was so fun and we had fun but we learned. Its nice to see that there are good teachers out there that are not worried about what is going on with their FB

  2. If you would like to send (pm) me her full name, where she taught, anything you can remember or know about her, my friend can find her for you. We had 322 in our graduating class & she has found all but five; one of those being a foreign exchange student. She found the other one. And you wouldn't believe the stories about all the others folks she has found.