Monday, November 21, 2016

Learning Setting from Picture Books

Setting can be a powerful ally to the writer...

because it can help establish the mood of a story.

It can also add to a story’s believability. Readers can enter an entirely new world and completely let go of their disbelief for the duration of the tale. Claire says that a good setting helps create story earmuffs—it allows the reader to tune out distractions and stay safely muffled in a different world!
Due to their unique combination of words and illustrations, picture books can be a great tool for studying the influence of setting within a story. One such picture book I would recommend is Aaron Becker’s marvelous wordless picture book, Journey (published by Candlewick Press, 2013). The book opens in a modern urban setting and then changes to a beautifully rendered fantastical world of imagination.

The change in setting is accompanied by a change in mood, as well as action. This shift actually drives the plot. Such a huge visual contrast between the story’s two settings provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss the power of setting with your children. Here are some questions to spark a discussion:

  • How does the setting direct or frame the story? (or how does the story change as the setting changes?)
  • How does Becker use color to increase the effectiveness of setting?
  • Writers use point-of-view, such as first- and third-person shifts, to influence a reader, but an illustrator can change point-of-view by changing the artistic perspective from page to page (sometimes close-up, sometimes far away—sometimes looking up at objects or sometimes looking down). Where does Becker do this? Does it change the reader’s response or feeling? Add tension?
  • Find the places where Becker uses tremendous detail in his setting and find the places where he uses almost no detail. Are both effective? Is the contrast effective? How would you accomplish this in writing?

After studying the book (or another of your choice), have your children write a paragraph or two describing one or both of Becker’s settings (or make up a setting of their own). If your child is uncomfortable with writing on his/her own, engage in partnership writing with them—each of you coming up with a descriptive phrase about one of the two settings, and taking turns writing down each phrase or sentence. Continue going back and forth until you run out of descriptions. See if you can vary the details in your sentences or phrases (some long and descriptive, some short and sparse) like Becker does in his images.

- Tracy

Check out this guest article on Twigs - a blog from Rita and Moira, two Speech-Language Pathologists. See it and lots more from them and their friends at

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Connecting Arts to Language Arts

Welcome to Connecting Art to Language Arts!

If you’ve experienced any schooling, you’ve probably experienced some Language Arts. It’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot when referring to language study, reading, writing, and speech. It is an art in that it reflects careful study, crafting, honing skills and the hope of eventual mastery.

But what about a different view of the “art” portion of Language Arts? What about drawing, painting, sculpting, building, carving and creating as forms of expression? How much more or how much better could we express our thoughts if we could tap into some of those practices?

The paring of two disciplines, such as art with language arts, can yield opportunities for deeper understanding.  Often when we draw and write together, we feel greater connection and empathy with our subject. Art can act as a bridge for a reluctant reader or writer to enter the world of verbal expression. Pun intended, pictures can draw us in, helping to explain difficult concepts, providing depth of ideas, characterization, or setting, or just acting as a welcome relief amidst a sea of unbroken text. The opposite is also true—artists can find new power through verbal expression along with their art.

In this blog we will investigate ways to expand the connection between art and language arts. We will look at getting the most out of the vehicles that already exist—everything from picture books to graphic novels. And we will explore new activities to get kids of all ages engaged in the art of expression—through art, through words, and best of all, through a combination of both!

- Tracy & Claire