Adventure in Writing a Picture Book

Mallard Duck – Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta, B.C.

I like to write.  Throughout my long and varied career in education, I have written for a variety of purposes, both professional and personal.  I’ve written curriculum, newsletters, articles, documented inquiry studies, developed websites and blogged.  I was thrilled when my MA thesis was bound and available for sign out from the Simon Fraser University Library.  However aside from publications in professional journals, I have never gone through the process of publishing a book.  Margaret Wheatley (2017) references the gifts and the firestorm in her book Who Do You Choose To Be?  If the COVID-19 global pandemic is the firestorm, the gift for me is the time for reading, reflection and writing this summer.  Fewer travel and social engagements have allowed me to focused my attention on my Bucket List – writing a book and trying to get it published. I decided to start with a picture book.

This spring, I enlisted the help of my childhood friend, John Patrick, to add new content to a Bird unit of study.  When face to face instruction did not resume after Spring Break due to COVID-19, I created an interdisciplinary Bird unit and posted it on the David Livingstone School website as a learning provocation to support teachers in providing learning opportunities for students. As a member of the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee, I looked ways parents could support learning outdoors.  When I requested he create a Twitter account @JSTCPatrick and tweet out pictures and observations of local birds, John was willing and enthusiastic about using his new camera.  I was able to retweet on the school twitter account @LivingstoneVSB which is connected to the school website.  For my budding #birdwatchers aka #twitchers, it suggested Vancouver birds that could be spotted and studied.

Early in the 2019-2020 school year, one of my students, Anna, pushed me to learn about graphic novels.  I had previously used graphic novels to support reluctant readers develop emerging reading and writing skills.  This bright, articulate Grade 7 girl pushed me to read specific graphic novels so I could understand how the art and language were woven together, often in masterful ways, to create a depth of meaning making not achievable with just the art or just the language.  She was also the inspiration behind a panel discussion on graphic novels targeting educators but also including students and parents.  I knew I wanted to weave the illustrations and the text together.  John was the natural choice.  Birds were the most obvious topic of study.  Stimulating a desire to get outside for open ended inquiry was a driving goal. 

John and I first met when we were neighbours living by Jericho Beach. There were a lot of kids in the neighbourhood and we traveled as a pack, mostly outdoors with the freedom to arrive home for dinner.  Seniors Housing had not yet been built at 4th Avenue and Wallace Street so we had a big vacant lot, the Jericho Beach Parkland, and Jericho Beach to explore.  We were observers of things – tadpoles, weather, birds, sand and mud.  John was an introspective kid who has used those skills to develop his artistic eye.   I was the adventurer leading the way to new discovery. 

Part of the beauty of our collaboration is how conversations open up new ways of looking at something.  I know how to engage pre-schoolers, elementary, secondary and adults learners through lesson design and inquiry studies in a face to face context.  I love to ask questions and go about finding answers and am able to convey that enthusiasm and draw learners into the process.  I have well developed language skills.  However, stimulating inquiry through a book does not allow you to shift your approach based on cues from your learners.  You have to provide multiple pathways to provoke questions and keep the learning moving forward.  When the learner opens a book, something needs to hook them right away.  John’s observational skills and patience have served him well in developing his artistic talents.  He has been writing cartoons for as long as I can remember which have provided a glimpse into his sense of humour, as well as studying art formally at Langara.  His skill set allows for additional pathways to engage students. 

We now have a frame and a plan that I love.  We are accountable to each other so the process is moving faster that if I was working myself, which is rarely the case!  The book is different and way better than what I initially envisioned.  And we are having fun!  My goal is to have all my writing done before I return to school.  I’m not certain that will be possible because in some cases the perfect photograph is driving the writing.  We are also wanting a cartoon story thread.  And every time we meet, something changes.

I’m curious as to how much more the book will change as the process evolves.  Neither of us know much about the mysteries of publication.  That process will involve more learning and undoubtedly some interesting conversations and connections.   Advice is welcomed! 

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